More than 70K Lon­don­ers live in poverty, re­port says

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - LOCAL NEWS - JEN­NIFER BIEMAN

With the low­est un­em­ploy­ment rate since 2004, still one in four chil­dren are liv­ing in poverty.

The grow­ing gap be­tween rich and poor — and the state of em­ploy­ment and af­ford­able hous­ing in Lon­don — loom large in the lat­est re­port from the Lon­don Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion, a bi­en­nial round-up of the most press­ing so­cial and eco­nomic is­sues in the city.

The Vi­tal Signs re­port, re­leased by the lo­cal non-profit Wed­nes­day, said more than 70,000 peo­ple in Lon­don live in poverty, out­strip­ping the na­tional av­er­age. A quar­ter of chil­dren are liv­ing in poverty in the city, more than both the provin­cial and na­tional av­er­ages.

“It’s an as­sess­ment of where we are, but also where we need to be and what we can do to get there,” said Made­line Len­non, Vi­tal Signs ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee chair­per­son. “It’s for all Lon­don­ers be­cause the whole com­mu­nity is af­fected by these is­sues.”

The 50-page re­port comes as other com­mu­nity agen­cies sound the alarm on hid­den need. Last month, the Lon­don Food Bank and other meal sup­port agen­cies in the city re­leased co-or­di­nated sta­tis­tics show­ing steady or in­creas­ing de­mand for their ser­vices, reach­ing lev­els close to the ones seen months af­ter the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis in 2008.

The United Way El­gin Mid­dle­sex launched its an­nual fall cam­paign cit­ing the rise of pre­car­i­ous labour — con­tract or short-term jobs that are un­re­li­able or don’t pro­vide ben­e­fits or sta­bil­ity — as a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to per­sis­tent and grow­ing need among the 56 agen­cies it funds.

Both pub­lic ap­peals hap­pened the same month as the Lon­don-St. Thomas un­em­ploy­ment rate held at 5.2 per cent, the low­est it’s been in 14 years.

But there’s more to the un­em­ploy­ment rate than meets they eye, Lon­don Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive Martha Pow­ell said.

The city’s labour-mar­ket par­tic­i­pa­tion rate — the num­ber peo­ple work­ing or look­ing for work — is at a dis­mal 60.5 per cent, one of the low­est rates in On­tario. The Vi­tal Signs re­port said a lack of well-pay­ing, re­li­able jobs or a mis­match be­tween work­ers’ skills and ones re­quired by work­places could be to blame.

“When you hear there are jobs open and there’s no­body to fill them, there’s a mis­match there,” Pow­ell said. “We need to, I think, have a good look at what are the skill sets that we need in our com­mu­nity and then beef up the train­ing for those skills.”

Rental hous­ing also is an is­sue in Lon­don, Pow­ell said, one that can be a bar­rier for new­com­ers and young peo­ple try­ing to live and work in the city.

Lon­don’s rental va­cancy rate in 2017 was 1.8 per cent, down two per cent from 2011. It’s only slightly higher than the provin­cial av­er­age.

The slim pick­ings in avail­able units mean peo­ple can be stuck in apart­ments or neigh­bour­hoods that aren’t work­ing for them or their fam­i­lies, Pow­ell said.

What’s more, nearly half of all renters in Lon­don are spend­ing more than 30 per cent of their in­come on their monthly hous­ing ex­penses, the re­port said.

Though the num­bers high­light se­ri­ous com­mu­nity is­sues, the lat­est Vi­tal Signs re­port is not meant to be all doom and gloom, Pow­ell said. While com­pil­ing the lat­est bi­en­nial round-up, the foun­da­tion took a dif­fer­ent tone than the last one in 2016 that looked at men­tal health pro­grams, du­pli­ca­tions and gaps in the city.

The goal was to in­spire reg­u­lar peo­ple to fos­ter fel­low­ship and in­clu­sion in their com­mu­ni­ties.

“The way we wanted the re­port to be this year was to be pos­i­tive. That’s why we did the theme of be­long­ing,” she said. “You don’t have to be a pro­fes­sional to make a dif­fer­ence, you can make a dif­fer­ence. . . It doesn’t mat­ter who you are, you can do some­thing.”

DEREK RUTTAN/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Pedes­tri­ans walk Wed­nes­day past a pedes­trian ask­ing for money be­hind Martha Pow­ell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Lon­don Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion. The foun­da­tion re­leased a re­port say­ing 70,000 peo­ple live in poverty in Lon­don.

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