Poverty affects nearly 1.8 million Ontarians and is both a cause and a consequence of poor mental health. People can experience economic hardship as a result of a variety of difficult life situations, such as divorce, a death in the family, loss of job, etc. The resulting loss of income may lead to poverty in other essential resources, such as housing, education and employment. Evidence indicates that poverty — and the material and social deprivation associated with it — is a primary cause of poor health among Canadians. As a result, one’s quality of life is compromised, which impacts mental health.
Poverty also creates barriers to accessing resources that people with mental illness need for recovery. For people who are predisposed to mental illness, losing stabilizing resources, such as income, employment, and housing, for an extended period of time can increase the risk factors for mental illness or relapse. Experiencing a mental illness can interrupt a person’s education or career path and result in diminished opportunities for employment. A lack of secure employment, in turn, affects one’s ability to earn an adequate income. As a result, people with a mental illness can remain in chronic poverty.
Addressing the relationship between poverty and mental health is the key to promoting mental health and supporting the recovery of people with mental illness.
How CMHA Is Addressing This Issue
CMHA Ontario, along with numerous organizations and provincial networks, has been calling for poverty reduction strategies that increase access to economic and community supports for vulnerable populations. CMHA Ontario is active in supporting people with mental illness to reduce their risk of living in poverty. We do this by advocating for increases in supportive housing, effective employment support programs and raising income support.
Submission: Improving Ontario’s Social Assistance System, August 2011
A joint submission from Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario and Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, in response to “A Discussion Paper: Issues and Ideas”, which identifies recommendations for improving Ontario’s Social Assistance System for persons with mental health disabilities.
Backgrounder: Poverty and Mental Illness, November 2007
Defines poverty and explains the complex relationship between poverty and mental health.
Strategies for Reducing Poverty in Ontario, June 2008
A CMHA Ontario policy paper calls for social and economic resources that are needed to reduce poverty among people with mental illness.
Backgrounder: Housing and Mental Health, Dec 2012
Explains the importance of affordable housing as an essential resource for good mental health and describes the various types of housing and housing benefits that are available.
Mental Health Promotion in Ontario: A Call to Action, November 2008
A policy paper prepared by CMHA Ontario, together with four other provincial organizations, that identifies access to economic resources as one of the three most significant determinants of mental health.
Money, Fall 2007
An issue of CMHA Ontario’s Network magazine.
What Else Is Happening
In 2007, the Ontario Government formed a new Cabinet Committee to develop poverty indicators and measures to reduce poverty in Ontario. During 2008, the committee undertook a provincial public consultation process to gather information and advice on developing a poverty reduction strategy for Ontario. In December 2008, the Government of Ontario released their plan. Breaking the Cycle: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy intends to reduce child poverty by 25 percent in five years. The plan combines short, medium and long-term investments and outlines new programs and initiatives. The strategy acknowledges that certain population groups, such as people with disabilities, are at greater risk of poverty and express a long-term vision to address this situation.
In February 2009, the Ontario Government introduced to the legislature Bill 152, the Poverty Reduction Act, 2009. The poverty reduction act was passed on May 2009. It establishes mechanisms for the reduction of poverty in Ontario, including the commitment to reduce child poverty by 25 percent over five years, and to hold public reviews at least every five years in order to sustain a long-term strategy. An annual report to the public shall be made on progress in achieving provincial targets. The first annual report to the public is now available on the Government website atgrowingstronger.ca.
Also in February 2009, the Ontario Government announced three changes to rules for the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works. The following changes will be implemented on April 1, 2009: earnings exemptions for post-secondary students on OW and ODSP; the existing up-front child care benefit will be extended for recipients who require care to maintain their jobs or are engaged in work related activities; and an extension of the internal review process. These measures, committed to in the government’s poverty reduction strategy, are intended to help recipients pursue educational and employment opportunities. For more information, see Social Assistance Rule Changes To Support Education And Employment, February 25, 2009.
Minimum wage increases are also part of the government’s poverty reduction strategy. Ontario raised the minimum wage to $9.50 on March 31, 2009. This is the sixth increase since 2004, according to a Ministry of Labour news release, March 2, 2009. There is another raise to $10.25 slated for April 2010.
Talking Points: Information to Discuss Breaking the Cycle: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is a summary by CMHA Ontario of key actions identified in Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, and also identifies further actions that are needed.
A Blueprint for Economic Stimulus and Poverty Reduction in Ontario identifies key components for a poverty reduction plan and mobilizes community support for its implementation. February 2009.The 25-in-5 Founding Declaration calls on the government to address three key priorities. April 2007.
Summoned to Stewardship: Make Poverty Reduction a Collective Legacy. September 2007.
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Ready for Leadership: Canadians’ Perceptions of Poverty. October 2008.
Income Security Advocacy Centre
Make Your Voice Heard on Social Assistancerecommends changes to social assistance that fit within a poverty-reduction framework. May 2008.
Why Is It So Tough to Get Ahead? discusses how social programs discourages disadvantaged Canadians from achieving self-reliance and makes recommendations for changing social policies. November 2007.
Ontario Association of Food Banks
Ontario Non Profit Housing Association
A Housing Benefit for Ontario: One Housing Solution for a Poverty Reduction Strategy discusses housing benefits that can address the shortage of affordable housing in Ontario. September 2008.
Poverty is Making Us Sick, a Canadian survey examining the relationship between low income and health. December 2008.