D- Ontario Report Cards

Section 1: Experience of Poverty

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
People Feeling Worse off Compared to Last Year
47.1%
D-
D+
People Spending More than 30% of Income on Housing
45.7%
F
F
People Having Trouble Accessing Health Care
16.4%
D+
F
Government Support Recipients Who Say Rates Are Insufficient to Keep Up with Cost of Living
52.9%
F
D
Percent of Income Spent on Fixed Costs beyond Housing
59.4%
D-
C+
Overall
D-
D

Section 2: Poverty Measures

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Poverty Rate (MBM)
10.9%
F
D
Provincial Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line (Singles)
34%
F
F
Provincial Disability Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line
54%
D-
D-
Unemployment Rate
6.7%
F
D+
Food Insecurity Rate
24.5%
F
C-
Overall
F
D

Section 3: Material Deprivation

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Inadequate Standard of Living
34%
D
F
Severely Inadequate Standard of Living
24.3%
D+
D
Overall
D+
D-

Section 4: Legislative Progress

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Legislative Progress
D
F
Overall
D
F
×

Poverty reduction efforts have not appeared to be a priority for the Ontario government. With lacking action on affordable housing or expanding social services and programs, people in the province continue to see worsening conditions in 2024. This is concerning as the province is home to a significant portion of low-income Canadians.

Poverty overview

Ontario has a poverty rate of 10.9 per cent. While this is relatively on par with the national average (9.9), many people are still struggling at an unacceptable rate, especially given how prosperous Ontario is. For people living in the province, top solutions to their struggles include reducing food costs, strengthening health care, and reducing the cost of utilities. 
Ontario faces similar age-related challenges to those faced by other provinces across the country. While poverty rates for seniors are similar to the national rate, seniors who live alone in Ontario have a 10.5 per cent poverty rate, which is more than double the overall rate of 4.8 per cent. 
Children (under 18) in Ontario have a child poverty rate of 8.6 per cent, which is comparable to Canada’s average of 8.5 per cent. Overall, children make up 19 per cent of the province’s population but represent 31 per cent of food bank visitors. Youth aged 18–24 have a poverty rate of 13.7 per cent, which is also similar to the national rate. 
In Ontario, the poverty rate for people who live alone is 24 per cent, which is higher than the national rate for this group in 2021 (21.5 per cent). Men who live alone in Ontario have an even higher poverty rate (26.9 per cent). 
Single women with children have a poverty rate of 13.3 per cent, which is similar to the Canadian rate of 14.4 per cent but more than three times the poverty rate for couples with children in the province (4.3 per cent). Nearly one-fifth of all food bank visitors in the province come from single-parent families.


Poverty and Inequality in Ontario

Despite its economic prosperity, Ontario is struggling with growing income inequality, housing affordability issues, and systemic barriers to socio-economic opportunities. Racialized communities, Indigenous peoples, and newcomers often face disproportionate levels of poverty and exclusion that amplify those struggles. 
Indigenous people over 16 years of age are more than twice as likely to have low incomes as other groups. The poverty rate among the Indigenous population in Ontario was 10 per cent (11 per cent among First Nations people and 8 per cent among Métis) in 2021. Ontario has the largest gap of all the provinces in attainment of a university education between people who have official Indigenous status under the Indian Act and their non-Indigenous peers. In Ontario, non-indigenous people have higher incomes than all groups of Indigenous people. Non-Indigenous Canadians have a median income of $50,400, higher than individuals with Indian Status living on reserve ($32,400), with Indian Status living off reserve ($44,000) and Non-Status Indigenous peoples ($42,400). 
Similarly, racialized people are nearly twice as likely to have low incomes as non-racialized people. In addition, according to the last census in 2021, the poverty rate among all immigrants in Ontario was 9.2 per cent; among recent immigrants, it was 17 per cent. 
Meanwhile, non-permanent residents (people who have a work or study permit or have claimed refugee status) experience a poverty rate of 43.8 per cent, which is slightly higher than the rate for this group in Canada as a whole (41 per cent). In the spring of 2024, the federal government announced plans to significantly reduce the number of temporary residents in Canada, and the number of foreign students issued with visas to study in Ontario is slated to be halved. 
In Ontario, 34 per cent of the provincial population (over 4.8 million people) self-identified as part of the racialized population. The poverty rate for this group was the same as it was across Canada (12.1 per cent) in 2021. In addition, over two-thirds (69 per cent) of racialized individuals were first-generation immigrants (born outside of Canada). This group experienced a poverty rate of 14 per cent.


Labour and education

Despite Ontario’s strong economy, over one-third of the population (36 per cent) has difficulties accessing stable employment opportunities in their community, which is 6 percentage points higher than the national figure. 
As of March 2024, the unemployment rate in Ontario was 6.7 per cent, slightly higher than the national rate of 6.1 per cent. While overall participation in the labour market has increased over the last decade in Ontario, access to affordable childcare remains a major hurdle for many people who would like to work. Despite significant investment by the federal government, fewer than half of Ontario families are able to access childcare. 
Youth aged 15–29 who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) are at particular risk of poverty. In 2022, 11 per cent of youth in Ontario were in this situation. Furthermore, one-third of Ontario’s working-age population say that their mental health is affecting their ability to find work, work effectively, or maintain their finances. This is the highest reported rate in the country, alongside Saskatchewan’s.


The cost of living and affordable housing

Between December 2022 and December 2023, the overall price of goods and services in Ontario increased by 3.4 per cent; food increased by 4.1 per cent. While these rates are on par with or below the national average, many people in the province are still struggling to cope with these increased costs. Just over one-third of people in the province (34 per cent) worry about feeding themselves or their family. This figure is 5 percentage points higher than the national average. 
In addition, the cost of shelter increased by 5.4 per cent in Ontario, which is slightly less than the increase in Canada as a whole (6 per cent). Rent in Ontario increased at a pace of 6.9 per cent, which is also lower than the increase across Canada (7.7 per cent). The costs of owning a home, meanwhile, increased by 6.2 per cent, which is slightly below the Canadian rate of 6.7 per cent. Between these increases and the increases in the costs of food, many people in the province are struggling with the cost of shelter this year. As such, 41 per cent of the population are finding it hard to keep up with rising rents (the highest of all provinces) and 28 per cent agree that it is difficult to find adequate, affordable housing (the second highest of all provinces). 
The private rental market remains a major challenge for Ontarians, with nearly 1 in 4 residents who live in rental units being considered in core housing need. Among those in subsidized housing, the rate of core housing need is almost 30 per cent, and it declined by only 3.6 per cent between 2018 and 2021, compared to the national rate of decline of 14.3 per cent. 
Conversely, as with the overall national picture, significant progress has been made in accelerating the construction of new social housing. Thanks to significant investments by the National Housing Strategy, Ontario has added more than 36,000 new units since 2016, putting it just ahead of the national average. However, the government must continue to improve social supports and policies that help residents. At time of writing, 34 per cent of people said that social assistance rates are not high enough to help them keep up with the rising costs of living. Only BC, where the cost of living (largely due to housing) is also a large issue, has a higher response rate for that indicator.

While the Ontario government made early and modest progress toward supporting struggling households with the introduction of its Low-Income Workers Tax Credit (LIFT) in 2018, it has not treated poverty reduction itself as a major priority. This was made quite clear in the recent 2024 provincial budget, which makes no mention of the words “poverty” or “poor.” Although the provincial budget announced a go-forward indexation of the provincial Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) for seniors, this change will amount to only $48 in extra help for the poorest seniors next year.[1] 
In the last six years, the provincial government has taken no steps to update its provincial poverty reduction strategy. In 2018, it cancelled the basic income pilot, and it only agreed to index welfare and disability benefits going forward when an affordability crisis arose. However, the 5 per cent bump in support—lower than 2022’s rate of inflation— did nothing to address years of erosion of the living standards of Ontario’s poorest citizens
In the four years between 2018 and 2022, just before the provincial government announced that supports would be indexed, the poorest Ontarians who rely on provincial social assistance endured an approximately 10–11 per cent reduction in their standard of living due to the provincial government’s refusal to improve the adequacy of supports (see Table 1).

Table 1. Welfare incomes in Ontario, 2018–2022, constant dollars (2022)[2]


 

Unattached single person receiving Ontario Works

Unattached single person receiving Ontario Disability Support Program

Single parent with one child receiving Ontario Works

Couple with two children receiving Ontario Works

2018

$11,520

$17,860

$25,633

$37,021

2022

$10,253

$15,871

$23,102

$33,368

Change in $

−$1,268

−$1,989

−$2,531

−$3,652

Change in %

−11.0%

−11.1%

−9.9%

−9.9%


The Ontario government’s housing record is at best a mixed one. While the province appointed a housing affordability task force several years ago, but have yet to fulfill the vast majority of the task force’s sweeping and broadly endorsed policy recommendations. The government has implemented a number of reforms including: 
It has neither extended the same treatment to multi-tenant buildings nor pushed forward with intensification targets, even gentle ones, such as fourplexes by right. As a result of this mixed set of actions, Ontario is still nowhere near its goal of building more than 1.5 million more homes by 2031 to restore affordability to the overall housing market. And, despite being in the midst of a housing crisis, the provincial government announced no new money and no new targets for the construction of affordable, rent-assisted housing in its recent budget. The budget itself forecasts that the province will be nearly 40,000 units short of the number that must built this year just to catch up to the 1.5 million target by 2031. 
The provincial government’s lack of focus on deeply affordable housing is clearly illustrated by the fact that it has put forward a set of actions that would achieve only 6 per cent of the 2024–25 target it had previously agreed to with the federal government as a condition of federal housing funding. As a result, the federal government has threatened to pull back this funding and potentially redeploy it to other, higher-impact initiatives to build affordable housing. Ontario also has no comprehensive rent control and the Premier has rejected efforts to co-operate with the federal government on a renters’ bill of rights
Despite the lack of action on welfare reform, Ontario continues to have one of the highest minimum wages in the country, thanks to reforms brought in under the previous provincial government and which have stayed in place under Premier Ford. However, it still trails behind the federal minimum wage and remains well below levels considered livable. In addition, the pace of real wage gains has been slow in both Ontario and Canada as a whole for years. This highlights the stark reality that during the current affordability crisis, having a job is no guarantee of economic security. 
As in all provinces, food banks in Ontario are seeing significant increases in demand for their services. Between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023, Ontario food banks reported a growth in usage of 38 per cent, with over 800,000 unique visits. This is the equivalent of 1 in 19 Ontarians accessing emergency food services. This all underscores how crucial it is that the province take concerted action to improve the standard of living of the most vulnerable residents in the province, an increasing number of whom have a job. 
 [1] As of July 2024 the maximum GAINS benefit will increase from $83 per month to $87. In 2025, it will be indexed to inflation. It is anticipated that an additional 100,000 seniors will become eligible for the program as a result of changes in the full clawback provisions on outside income, although this was not spelled out in detail in the budget document and it is unclear whether those who are eligible will receive any meaningful support. 
[2] Adapted from data compiled by Maytree in its 2023 Welfare in Canada report.

Accountability

1. Establish a clear poverty reduction target of 50 per cent by 2030 compared to 2015 levels.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Ontario lacks a clear objective for measuring overall success in reducing the number of residents who are living in poverty. While the province’s current strategy includes metrics to increase employment and reduce social assistance caseloads, these do not guarantee any level of success with respect to overall poverty reduction.

Decent Work that Pays

2. Double the Low-Income Individuals and Families Tax Credit (LIFT) for Ontarians who are earning less than $50,000 and aim to harmonize the Canada Workers Benefit with it.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Since its introduction in 2018, LIFT and the recently enhanced CWB have provided substantial additional support to eligible workers who are transitioning into low-wage or part-time employment. To bolster these incentives, the province should use recent fiscal windfalls from the strong post-COVID-19 labour market recovery to double LIFT to $1,700, with a focus on helping workers who are earning less than $50,000 in particular. To simplify and improve access to supports, the Ontario government should also work with the federal government to harmonize program design. The CWB, for example, focuses primarily on employment source income (as does LIFT) rather than adjusted net income so that the two benefits are fully stackable. Harmonizing the program design would ensure that someone who is employed for 20 hours a week or less and is earning minimum wage would be able to benefit fully, with nearly $3,300 annually in combined and unreduced support.

3. Make it easier for people who are part of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to work and earn.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

In anticipation of the significant impact that the forthcoming Canada Disability Benefit will have on Canada’s social safety net, the government of Ontario should undertake a similar review of provincial benefits to enhance both their adequacy and the simplicity of the application process so that they provide livable support that encourages people to look for and stay in work.

4. Modernize the Ontario Works program and ODSP.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

While the province recently made welcome changes to increase the amount that a recipient of ODSP can keep if they find work—from $200 to $1,000 per month—any earnings above this level are still clawed back at a rate of 75 per cent. At a minimum, the province should reduce this clawback provision to 50 per cent, which would align with the current earnings exemption rule in the Ontario Works program. This would improve the ability of and incentive for people who receive ODSP to seek and find work if they are able to do so.

Affordable Housing

5. Enhance the provincial housing accelerator fund with new tax and grant incentives to supercharge the construction of affordable, purpose-built rental housing.
In Progress
In Progress
In Progress

While Ontario has established a provincial housing accelerator fund, this action only partially addresses our related recommendation from last year. Ontario needs to focus the Building Faster Fund on deeper housing affordability that addresses the needs of people who are classed as lower-income and working- poor. Private market developers are struggling to keep up with rising demand, as increased interest rates have affected financing options. Changing the focus of the Building Faster Fund would build on the savings gained from the removal of provincial GST on new purpose-built rental construction. For example, it could include establishing a time-limited, enhanced capital cost allowance class for purpose-built rental units so that developers can recoup their capital investment faster. In exchange, Ontario would set strong conditions to increase the mix of affordable and below-market units and deepen affordability. This could be paired with further grant investments to assist with land acquisition.

6. Establish an Ontario housing protection and acquisition fund.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

If Ontarians are to have affordable housing, the province’s non-profit and co-operative housing providers must be able to acquire land and property—often the most important cost in development—cheaply and quickly. The province’s More Homes Built Faster strategy facilitated initial steps in this direction by exempting affordable housing projects from development charges. This urgently needs to be supplmented by the province with funding and land so that projects can proceed. We recommend that an acquisition and development stream of at least $800 million be dedicated to affordable housing providers. British Columbia’s Community Housing Fund Program, a $3.3 billion investment to create 20,000 affordable homes, could be used as a template for a similar program in Ontario.

7. Direct Ontario cities to spend their available cash on affordable housing.
PRC New Policy

Ontario cities are sitting on significant reserves and cash that could be used to build affordable housing. In 2022, Ontario municipalities had $2 billion more in cash on hand than they did before the pandemic, with development charge reserves big enough for Toronto and Ottawa to spend down for years without needing to collect any new revenue. Even with the recent reduction in development charges for affordable housing, there is still significant room for additional investment. The province should direct municipalities to present a plan to deploy excess reserves over a period of five years by either further reducing development charges on affordable housing or directly co-investing the reserves into affordable housing projects or related health and human services that help ensure the most vulnerable residents are successfully housed.