I was part of the consulting team that did the data collection for this report. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities just released this report today, March 24.
6th theme report from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Quality of Life Reporting System (QOLRS)
The report identifies a destructive dynamic in which poverty, most prevalent among certain growing vulnerable groups, combines with shrinking federal and provincial support for social services to increase demands on limited municipal resources. This dynamic creates an urban environment where substantial numbers of people are disadvantaged, despite generally positive (until recently) economic conditions.
The dynamic grows from the following trends:
The persistence of poverty despite economic growth –While certain populations experienced relative improvements in their socio-economic situation (e.g., seniors, aboriginals,people with disabilities) during the five-year period of relative economic growth from 2001 to 2006, others were left even further behind (e.g., single mothers and families with young children, the working poor, immigrants, and social-assistance recipients).
The erosion of traditional social-policy tools – Traditional social policy tools to combat poverty and unemployment eroded during the survey period. The federal role in national social has declined as seen in the prolonged shortage of funding for social housing, restrictions on Employment Insurance (EI) eligibility, and the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP). Concurrently, provincial downloading of social-service costs and responsibilities to municipalities and the not-for-profit sector has, in many cases, further exacerbated the situation, weakening municipal social infrastructure.
The fraying social safety net – Tougher requirements for social assistance have contributed to the increase in working poor families and the incidence of homelessness. More restrictive eligibility rules for EI over the past 15 years will affect the increased numbers of QOLRS residents who are losing their jobs as a result of the recent recession. Once their EI is exhausted, many of these unemployed people will turn to welfare, which is administered and financed by municipal governments in many of the QOLRS communities.
The municipal role in patching the social safety net – The report highlights a range of social infrastructure with strong municipal involvement, including social housing, emergency shelters, public transit, childcare, recreation, and libraries. Together, these facilities, programs and services help fill the gap left by shrinking federal and provincial social assistance. They form the social infrastructure that a growing number of people rely on to earn a living, raise their families, and cope with difficult times.
The looming deficit in municipal social infrastructure – Cities have stepped in to fill holes in the social safety net left by federal and provincial governments as they retreat from funding social programs. Even with these investments, long waiting lists for services, increasing homelessness and a growing number of working-poor families suggest demand is outpacing the municipal capacity to respond.