United Way offers testimony on Ontario’s path to economic prosperity

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I was invited to give testimony on January 23 to the Ontario Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Development. A few local MPPs attended the presentation, including committee members Jeremy Roberts of Ottawa West—Nepean and Goldie Ghamari of Carleton. Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden was also present.

The committee asked United Way Ottawa to offer innovative and cost-effective ideas to include in the upcoming provincial budget that will “cut red tape” and improve the way the government delivers programs and services to the people – all while saving taxpayers money.

It is my belief, that cost-effectiveness does not have to be at odds with goals of social justice. Seeing them as separate objectives often keeps us from achieving better results for everyone.

To truly deliver cost-effective, impactful social services it takes coordination, cooperation, and commitment to a common goal.

At United Way Ottawa, we have several examples of how our initiatives keep costs low while the positive impact on the community continues to grow. The unique trait? We always work together.

Michael Allen
President and CEO
United Way Ottawa

Barriers to employment

In Ottawa, only 45 per cent of people with disabilities take part in the labour market, compared to 76 per cent of the general population. Ottawa isn’t particularly special in this regard – those numbers are consistent across the province.

1 in 6 people with disabilities live below the poverty line. By themselves, these numbers are distressing, but they say nothing about the implications that go along them. With poverty comes the loss of personal dignity and purpose, and limits on an individual’s right to make their own choices and build their own future. For people with disabilities, poverty makes social isolation worse, leading to poor health.

In response to these challenges, United Way Ottawa worked with local partners to build the Employment Accessibility Resource Network, or, EARN.

EARN is a local partnership between three groups:

  • agencies who support people with disabilities who are looking for jobs
  • employers who are looking to hire and create a more diverse workforce
  • and people living with disabilities.

We know many people with disabilities want to work, but many barriers keep them from finding a job. EARN’s goal is to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and to make sure workplaces are inclusive and accessible. We want fair, sustainable employment that fits within each person’s abilities. This will reduce strain on social services, empower individuals with a sense of purpose, and give them more freedom to live their lives the way they choose.

And we found a formula that works: Since 2012, more than 3,600 local job seekers with disabilities have found employment thanks to EARN.

We are able to help more and more people with disabilities find jobs each year, while keeping costs the same. This is possible because we rally our community to work together.

A common goal

In late November of 2018, Minister Lisa MacLeod met with United Ways in Ontario to discuss her Ministry’s intentions for social assistance reform. She indicated that the end goal of these reforms is to help more people find a pathway out of poverty. The Minister believes the system, which has the best intentions of helping the province’s most vulnerable, keeps many people stuck in poverty over the long-term. At a time when Ontario’s labour market demands are only growing, it is important that people who want to work can find employment.

The Minister believes better outcomes for the most vulnerable people will come when all sectors of our society – government, business and community – are involved in the solution. United Way Ottawa’s experience in bringing together different groups to solve challenges, including employment for people with disabilities, confirms this is possible.

In the months to come, I and my team at United Way Ottawa will continue to encourage the provincial government to abide by these principles. While we work hard to help Ottawa’s most vulnerable, we hope our members of provincial parliament at Queen’s Park do the same for the people of Ontario.

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