March 2016

In 2016, Sheridan College’s Centre for Elder Research was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant. The Centre, along with Community Development Halton and other community partners across the Halton and Peel regions, are collaborating to create policies and programs that will not only interrupt the deteriorating effects of loneliness and social isolation for those over 65 years of age, but also will promote more inclusive, age-friendly communities.

This Community Dispatch reviews recent understandings of loneliness and social isolation among older adults, while at the same time outlining distinguishing characteristics. It also explores the prevalence of social isolation and loneliness in older adults and some potential risk factors that may increase an individual’s loneliness and/or social isolation.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director


Ageing is the gradual process of growing old. In Canada, the term ‘old age’ and senior is defined as an individual who is over the age of 65. Old age is described as a transitional period where older adults encounter changes in either their physical health or social roles.

According to Statistics Canada, the senior age group experienced a population increase of 29.1%, indicating that older adults are the fastest growing population in the country. Canada’s senior population will continue to increase in the upcoming years. In fact, according to Statistic Canada’s annual demographic estimates, the country’s senior population has outnumbered children between the ages 0 to 14 for the first time in history. By 2036, it is estimated that the proportion of seniors in the overall population will range somewhere between 23 to 25 per cent. This strongly accentuates the need to grasp an understanding of the ageing population’s precise needs, as well as the need to increase and improve services in the ageing field.

On average, Canada’s ageing population is found to live a more active, healthy and financially stable life than those from previous generations. However, seniors today are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition, disability and/or mental health illness. Seniors are also at a greater risk of becoming lonely and/or socially isolated. Lack of social relationships, discontent with the quality of such relationships, or low levels of social engagement and participation, have damaging effects on the quality of life for Canadian seniors. According to a 2012 International Federation of Aging report commissioned by the Employment and Social Development Canada, the most prominent emerging issue seniors are facing is finding means to become, or remain, socially included and connected to their community.

Defining Loneliness and Social Isolation

While there is some commonality between loneliness and social isolation, it is crucial to note that not all intersections between these two concepts are entirely clear, and therefore, these terms should not be used interchangeably. Loneliness and social isolation can be defined and viewed in multiple ways.

“Loneliness is a dynamic state that varies across the life course and is influenced by the resources available to individuals and their socio-environmental context as well as individual personality traits.”[1] Loneliness “reflects an individual’s subjective evaluation of his or her social participation or social isolation and is the outcome of the cognitive evaluation of having a mismatch between the quantity and quality of existing relationships on the one hand and relationship standards on the other.”[2]Loneliness is an inevitable condition of life, and therefore, it is crucial to recognize that the feeling of loneliness is not something that can be entirely solved or cured.

Unlike loneliness, social isolation is an objective state that can be defined as a lack of social belongingness, the perception of missing relationships, or a lack of lasting interpersonal relationships. Similar to loneliness, “social isolation is multidimensional. It encompasses physical dimensions, mental health and psychological dimensions, and social dimensions. It can be more or less severe, and has a temporal dimension; that is, it could be permanent, periodic, or episodic if related to life cycles or life transition phases.”[3]

Social isolation is also defined as “a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling quality relationships.”[4]

Prevalence of Loneliness and Social Isolation in Seniors

While loneliness and social isolation can occur at any point in life, research finds that loneliness is most common among older seniors and adolescents. Canada lacks statistics on the prevalence of loneliness in its ageing population. For example, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the prevalence of loneliness ranges anywhere from 10 to 90% depending on what definition is used and who the participants are.

The literature explains that Aboriginal seniors, visible minorities, newcomers, immigrants, caregivers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered seniors, are all at an increased risk of becoming lonely and/or socially isolated. Older immigrants, minority ethnic groups, and lower income seniors are also at a higher risk of becoming lonely as they experience fewer social interactions due to factors such as language barriers, literacy, and discrimination. These individuals are also more likely to lack a sense of belongingness to their community.

Risk Factors

There are four sets of factors that are shown to be linked to loneliness and social isolation: socio-demographic attributes, the socio-environment, health status and health resources, and life transitions.

1. Socio-Demographics and Social Contexts

Living arrangements influences socialization patterns. Rates of severe loneliness for older people residing in care homes is estimated to be double of those who live in a community-dwelling. It is found that a change in residence or living alone may also increase one’s risk of becoming socially isolated. According to Canada’s National Seniors Council, lack of publicly funded long-term care facilities for seniors imposes additional risks that may increase an individual’s chance at experiencing social isolation.

The way in which a family is structured is also thought to be a risk factor for social isolation and/or loneliness in seniors. This includes younger family members migrating for work, having no children, having children who live far distances away, acting as a caregiver for family members, and the loss of siblings or other social networks.

Poverty is also believed to be a potential risk factor for loneliness and social isolation in seniors. Living in poverty is found to influence perceptions and experiences of prejudice and stigma, which seems to increase the likelihood of an individual becoming socially isolated as they are less likely to become involved in community activities, and instead, are more likely to distance themselves through self-isolating behaviours.

2. Socio-Environment

The built environment – whether there is an absence of affordable and suitable housing or lack of accessible and affordable transportation – will impact the prevalence of loneliness and social isolation in older adults. Another factor that may increase the likelihood of an older adult becoming lonely and/or socially isolated is the physical safety of their community.

Accessibility of services or access to information for services also increases the likelihood of seniors becoming lonely or socially isolated. Lack of affordable or suitable housing is also thought to be a possible risk factor. In fact, the prevalence of social isolation in older adults living in community-dwellings is estimated to range anywhere from 10% to as high as 43%.

3. Health Status and Health Resources

Living with a compromised health status has been identified as a risk factor for increased social isolation. Age-related conditions such as incontinence, weakness, fear of falling when going to and from places, or loss of independence have also been recognized as risk factors for social isolation. Loneliness and social isolation also tends to be a frequent companion of older adults living with chronic illnesses and other negative health outcomes. Lastly, limited access or inadequate primary health care services are recognized as a risk factor for increased loneliness and/or social isolation.

4. Life Transitions

Life transitions are unavoidable and can vary anywhere from the death of a spouse or partner, adult child, grandchild, or friends, to the experience of a traumatic or negative life event, decreased functional competence or increased incapacity in one’s partner, divorce, moving and retirement.

Canada’s National Seniors Council’s 2014 Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors suggests four specific measures to interrupt social isolation:

  1. Raise public awareness of social isolation of seniors;
  2. Promote improved access to information, services, and programs for seniors;
  3. Build the capacity of organizations to address isolation of seniors through social innovation;
  4. Support research to better understand the issue of social isolation.

Current approaches to social isolation and loneliness in seniors are not specific activities or interventions, but rather services designed to address one or more of the key challenges faced in working with seniors who are lonely. There is a high need for the government to collaborate with the ageing population to create and implement these programs.

In order to create new interventions that are effective, commissioners and funders of services that work with the ageing population must be able to identify areas in the community that are in need. We also need to see an increase in support service providers who deliver these interventions. Additional research needs to be done so a more comprehensive understanding of loneliness and social isolation in Canada can be developed.

Some examples of new interventions to interrupt social isolation and loneliness:

  • Use data and target action to identify services for specific populations at risk
  • Community engagement and collaboration
  • Link loneliness and social isolation interventions with health care services
  • Reconnect seniors with their social networks and communities
  • Design strategies to create meaningful social contacts and connections
  • Neighbourhood approaches
  • Promote opportunities for volunteerism


For future research, the British Columbia Ministry of Health suggests that we begin to explore how different ethnicities experience loneliness and social isolation, examine the relationship between loneliness and poverty, review transportation infrastructures and the effects it has on seniors, explore the experiences of caregivers whose partners live with a disability, examine the connections between social isolation and service usage, and look into what features of social support can enhance health.

More and more older Canadians are at risk of becoming socially isolated and/or lonely because of factors such as unsuitable living arrangements, a compromised health status, changing family structures, death of family members, and more. The risk factors for loneliness and social isolation in seniors is wide-ranging and immensely complex. Loneliness and social isolation is not a phenomenon that can be ignored any longer as its impact on Canada’s ageing population is too severe. This literature review has identified that, while there appears to be an extensive amount of knowledge referring to the causes, risks factors, consequences and interventions that seek to address loneliness and social isolation in seniors, numerous gaps still remain.

The full document Seniors: Loneliness and Social Isolation is available on Community Development Halton’s website.


[1] Victor, Christina R. "Loneliness in Care Homes: A Neglected Area of Research?" Aging Health (2012): 638.

[2] de Jong Gierveld, J., Tineke Fokkema, and Theo Van Tilburg. "Alleviating Loneliness among Older Adults: Possibilities and Constraints of Interventions." Safeguarding the Convoy: A Call to Action from the Campaign to End Loneliness 9 (2011): 41-42.

[3] Keefe, Kanice, Melissa Andrew, Pamela Fancey, and Madelyn Hall. "Final Report: A Profile of Social Isolation in Canada." 2006, 1.

[4]Nicholson, Jr, Nicholas R. “Social isolation in older adults: An evolutionary concept analysis.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 65 (2009): 1342-52.

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Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail:



November 2015

In the fall, Peter Clutterbuck and I delegated to the Changing Workplace Review that is to report in 2016 on the adequacy of existing labour standards in the Province of Ontario. Our effort was to place the issues of decent work in the non-profit community based sector on the public agenda. While the Advisors asserted the legal imperative of recognizing the role of work from a human and civil rights perspective, we argued that there was also a basic moral imperative to affirm the personal, social and cultural significance of work in the daily lives of Canadians. I share this analysis of the growing nature of precarious employment in the non-profit sector and its implications for workplaces and those served. It contributes to our understanding of the challenges faced by this sector.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

Community Sector Employment

More than one-quarter of all non-profit organizations in Canada are located in Ontario and they employ almost one million Ontarians (956,678), which was one in six of all employed Ontarians in 2003, the last time a comprehensive voluntary sector survey was conducted (Scott et al., 2006).

These numbers are significant not only for an indication of their social impact on people using community services, but also for their contribution to the Canadian economy. Employment levels are one measure of a sector’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The non-profit sector as a whole is made up of “institutional” organizations (hospitals and universities) and the “core non-profit sector” consisting of community-based organizations. The “core non-profit” sector alone in Canada contributed more than $35.6 billion to the national GDP in 2006, which was higher than the Accommodations and Food Services industry ($29.6 billion), Agriculture ($13.6 billion) and Motor Vehicle Manufacturing ($5.9 billion) (ONN, 2014; Statistics Canada, 2007).

Community social services are a very large sub-sector of the core non-profit sector. The community services sub-sector is highly diverse including small, medium and large service organizations providing critical support to a variety of community needs including children, youth and families, seniors, persons with physical and developmental disabilities and persons with serious mental health problems, homeless and inadequately housed people, unemployed and low income people, immigrants and refugees, and others.

Non-Standard Employment in the Community Sector

In recent years, research studies have highlighted the growth of non-standard employment and precarious work (Gellatly and Sohn, 2015; PEPSO, 2015; PEPSO, 2013; Stapleton, 2015). Such employment is characterized by low wages, no or few benefits, short-term contracts, job insecurity, temporary and part-time status in the workforce, and has been called the “new normal” in the modern workforce (PEPSO, 2015, p. 4). While these issues have come to the forefront in the last few years, they have been prevalent in the non-profit community service sector for some time.

Temporary and Part-time Employment

Survey research as early as 1999 comparing the Canadian for-profit and non-profit workplaces showed a rate of temporary versus permanent employment in the non-profit sector (14%) almost double the for-profit sector (8%) (Saunders, 2004, p. 25). The National Survey of Non-profit and Voluntary Organizations (NSNVO, 2003) of 13,000 non-profit charitable organizations across Canada reported even higher levels of temporary employment (35%) for the overall non-profit social services sector, which was almost three times the rate (12.5%) for Canadian employers in general (Hall et al., 2005, p. 38).

Similarly, part-time work has been prevalent in the non-profit sector for many years before its more recent rapid growth in general in the Canadian and Ontario economies. The Workers’ Action Centre (WAC) reports that part-time work has grown by 25% since 2000 to reach 19% of all employment in 2015 (Gellatly and Sohn. 2015, p. 6). The national survey comparing for-profit, public and non-profit workplaces in 1999 showed part-time employment in the non-profit sector at 25% compared to 13.4% in the for-profit sector (Saunders, 2004, pp. 25-26).

The latest province-wide survey in Ontario (2013) indicates that the disproportionate weight of part-time employment in the non-profit workforce continues to hold. Fifty-nine per cent (59%) of employment is full-time (53% being full-time permanent with 6% full-time contract work), while 41% is part-time (28% part-time permanent and 13% part-time contract) (McIsaac, Park and Toupin, 2011, p. 15).[1]

The Workers’ Action Centre (WAC) has highlighted the rapid growth of temporary employment agencies as one of the main drivers of the growth in precarious employment.

Workers in the non-profit community services sector have not escaped the trend toward use of temporary employment agencies. WAC has documented the stories of workers being placed in jobs as “independent contractors” with multiple community health and social agencies at minimum and low wages and without benefits, subject to only part-time work, on-call duty and short shifts, making less hourly wages than permanent staff doing the same work (Gellatly and Sohn, 2015, pp. 1, 4, 6). The services of temporary employment agencies may allow community service non-profits the labour flexibility to manage tight budgets, but the unfair effects on their workers are just as negative as in for-profit sector employment.

Low Wage Sector

It is commonly acknowledged that the non-profit sector is characterized by low wages and little or no benefits, especially among small non-profit employers (10 or fewer employees) and medium size non-profit employers (11-20 employees). Doubtless, this reflects in part the assumptions that work in the sector is a “labour of love” and compensation is less important than self-fulfillment (Baines et al., 2014, p. 86). There is low public recognition of the societal value of work in the charitable sector even though it contributes significantly to both social well-being and the economy.

Recent research on the quality of employment in the non-profit sector by Baines et al. produced the following conclusion:

Because there are very limited detailed surveys of the nonprofit sector it is difficult to get precise information of the wage/salary levels and other working conditions in the NPSS [Non-Profit Social Services]. Our own qualitative investigation, however, reveals that the compensation levels stand considerably below public sector employers and in many cases the most temporary workers receive wages only modestly above minimum wage. Stagnate [sic] wages/salaries in the NPSS due to years of flat lined funding is causing significant financial hardship for nonprofit employees. (Baines et al., 2014, p. 81)

Local research in Ontario also indicates wage disparities are higher for front-line workers. Clutterbuck and Howarth compared the results of community agency surveys conducted locally across Ontario between 2003 and 2007, showing in the following table wage disparities in most cases for front-line non-profit community service workers compared to average employment earnings for all workers and all full-time, full-year earners in Ontario in 2000 (Clutterbuck and Howarth, 2007, p. 52).

Table 1

Comparison of Median Annual Wages in Community Service Agency Surveys with Annual Average Wages for Employees in Corresponding Communities

Non-profit Community Service Surveys Median Annual Wages of Community Service Front-line Workers

Average Earnings

(All persons, 2000)[2]


Average Earnings

(Full-time, Full-year, 2000)


Halton Region (2007) $35,000 $45,835 $60,966
City of Ottawa (2005) $35,000 $39,713 $53,250
Niagara Region (2003) $30,000 $30,750 $42,126
City of London (2004) $30,000 $32,433 $44,072
City of Toronto (settlement, 2005) Less than $40,000 $37,833 $49,540
Ontario (2000) -- $35,185 $47,299

Women far outweigh men in the non-profit sector, especially at the front-line and non-managerial administrative positions. Recent research of the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) workforce shows that women make up 47.6% of the overall labour force but 84.4% of the non-profit labour force, which remains a fairly constant pattern between 1996 and 2006 (Zizys, 2011, p.5). Moreover, at the front-line level racialized women are in an even more precarious position in the workforce (Gellatly and Sohn, 2015, p. 13).

Low wage and more precarious employment in the community services sector produce economic hardship for workers but also create negative effects on their personal health and well-being as concluded from a review of a number of studies in both Ontario and other provinces (Clutterbuck and Howarth, 2007, pp. 49, 51-52; Baines et al., 2014, pp. 82-83).

Generally, the non-profit workforce is better educated and skilled in its social relations with clients and community members. Non-profit workers, however, are highly susceptible to recruitment to other sectors. Lack of competitive wages is a primary barrier for non-profit agencies to both recruitment and retention of skilled and qualified staff. Among non-profit agencies responding to a recent Ontario survey, 40% identify “non-competitive wages and salary levels” as the major challenge to staff recruitment and retention in the last three to five years (McIsaac et al., 2013, p. 21-23).

Commenting on the latest overall Ontario non-profit agency survey results, the researchers conclude:

Across sectors, there is a sense of decline in employment stability. In the non-profit sector, particularly that part of the sector that relies heavily on public sector funding, this is experienced as a result of increasing fiscal pressure of governments and the resulting move away from core funding to project-based funding. This reality shapes employment in the sector, and contributes to part-time and contract employment, lower wages, and limited access to benefits and pensions. (McIsaac et al., 2013, p. 15)

Less Health and Retirement Funds

Finally, and not surprisingly, employees in part-time and contract positions are much less often covered by health and retirement benefits than permanent full-time workers, especially if they are working in non-unionized workplaces (McIsaac et al., 2013, p. 16).

In the Vanguard of Precarious Employment

The growth of precarious employment in the economy generally is attributed to globalization, more competitive markets for goods and services demanding tight labour cost controls, and employers’ wish for a more flexible workforce in response to changing business cycles.

While community service delivery must be delivered on the ground within communities and cannot be outsourced to international labour markets, one could argue that outsourcing in the community services sector really began with the devolution and offloading of publicly delivered services by governments to communities in the 1990s.

The Uncertainty of Paid Labour Substitution

An added dimension of precarity in the non-profit sector is its particular reliance on volunteers to perform some roles within community service agencies. In Ontario, it is estimated that the 46,000 non-profit organizations engage five million volunteers (ONN, 2014). Interestingly, the overall value of the non-profit sector is often monetized by converting the number of volunteer hours given annually into the equivalent number of full-time jobs in the economy.[3] While this does signify the importance of the sector’s societal contribution, it also raises the question about whether the particular feature of voluntarism in the sector acts to suppress job creation or even replaces paid work when agencies must deal with funding constraints while service demands increase.

Later Canadian research reinforces the “interchangeability” of paid staff with volunteers from the point of view of volunteers themselves, 10.8% of which reported replacing paid staff.

A survey of community service agencies in Halton Region showed that agencies reporting paid staff positions dedicated to volunteer coordination provided a significantly wider range of supports for the recruitment and retention of volunteers.[4]

This suggests that the paid staff-volunteer relationship in the sector should be re-framed from a debate about “interchangeability” to the recognition of “interdependence,” i.e. investment in paid staff for volunteer support produces the added-value of greater and more consistent volunteer participation and contribution to community life.

Recommendations for Addressing Precarious Employment in the Community Services Sector

The preceding description illustrates that conditions for precarious employment in the non-profit community services sector are longstanding and have worsened in the last 15 to 20 years. Community service agencies have struggled with meeting increasing service demands without secure and stable funding and with burdensome administrative responsibilities for the funding they do receive. The highly constraining policy and program frameworks within which the sector operates inevitably have an effect on the populations that they serve and on the human resource capacity that they deploy to fulfill their social missions. Clutterbuck and Howarth summarize the costs of the existing conditions as follows:

  • Inefficient use of project funding dollars on short-term initiatives without building and supporting the administrative capacity in underserved communities to use project and program funding for their intended purposes.
  • Withering of the sector’s capacity for social innovation, civic engagement, and social inclusion, as funding continues to emphasize targeted service needs, and neglects the sector’s key role in contributing more broadly to the reduction of social inequities.
  • Continuing to reinforce low wage, gendered employment ghettos, leading to further decline in working conditions and threatening the loss of a skilled and committed workforce.
  • Failing to regenerate the sector’s employee base by attracting new workers within the context of a more competitive labour market. (Clutterbuck and Howarth, 2007, pp. 66-67)

The Social Planning Network of Ontario endorses the full set of recommendations made by the Workers’ Action Centre in its landmark report, Still Working on the Edge. There are several recommendations with particular relevance to the non-profit community sector that we would like to highlight in our endorsement:

  1. Making a clear statement within the Employment Standards Act that the “dignity of work” and the core principles of “decent employment” for all workers in the province are critically important (Gellatly and Sohn, 2014, p. 2).
  2. Ensuring that the definition of employee and the responsibilities of employers cover all workers including those designated as “independent contractors” or workers assigned by temporary employment agencies (Gellatly and Sohn, 2014, p. 3).
  3. Strengthen the regulation of temporary help and employment agencies as recommended specifically in the following ways:

>>  Ensure that temp agency workers receive the same wages, benefits, and working conditions as workers doing comparable work that are hired directly by the client company.

>>  Make client companies jointly responsible with temp agencies for all rights under the ESA, not just wages, overtime, and public holiday pay.

>>  Eliminate barriers to client companies hiring temp agency workers directly during the first six months.

>>  Prohibit long-term temporary assignments. Require that agency workers become directly-hired employees after working a cumulative total of six months for the client company. Limit temporary staffing to 20 percent of a company’s workforce. (Gellatly and Sohn, 2014, p. 4)

  1. Establish and enforce equal pay for work of equal value in all workplaces and non-differential equal treatment by employers of all employees regardless of their classification (Gellatly and Sohn, 2014, p. 6).
  2. “Raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2016” (Gellatly and Sohn, 2014, p. 12). The SPNO has consistently advocated that the statutory minimum wage in Ontario should be set at 10% above the official income poverty line and indexed annually.
  3. Increase paid annual vacation time to a minimum of three weeks per year as regulated currently in all other Canadian legislative jurisdictions except Ontario and Yukon (Gellatly and Sohn, 2014, pp. 12-13).
  4. Reduce the barriers to unionization for workers in precarious employment so that they have the chance to form a collective voice on the terms of their compensation and working conditions (Gellatly and Sohn, 2014, p. 10).

Finally, SPNO asks that the Special Advisors give attention to the role and value of the non-profit community sector and the particular challenges that it has historically encountered in attempting to support a strong workforce, increasingly difficult in recent years.

Therefore, SPNO urges the Special Advisors to recommend that the Minister of Labour convene and join a table of representatives from the community services sector and the funding sector to support and promote decent employment in community services with a special focus on a human resource development strategy to help the sector attract younger workers wishing to join their career paths with the social missions of community services organizations.

The full submission of Decent Work in the Non-profit Community Services Sector in Ontario can be viewed at

[1] Notably, 70% of survey respondents were larger non-profit organizations and one-third were social service organizations.

[2] Statistics Canada reports two average annual earnings figures by region, one is for all person 15 years of age and over working full-time, part-time, or seasonally, which is naturally lower than the average annual earning for all persons working full-time for the full year.

[3] The Ontario Nonprofit Network reports the five million volunteers in Ontario contribute 811 million hours annually which converts into 422,000 full-time jobs (ONN, 2014).

[4] Across eight areas of volunteer support (e.g. orientation, recognition events, subsidized skill development), agencies with a paid volunteer coordinator averaged 80% provision of support compared to 51% for agencies without paid volunteer coordinators.

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Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail:



November 2014

Community Development Halton is an active member of the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO). SPNO was instrumental in making child poverty a major issue in the 2007 Ontario General Election and in mobilizing Poverty Free Ontario, with its network deep in communities, to keep poverty eradication alive as a critical social issue. I share with you a reflection piece prepared for SPNO by Peter Clutterbuck and Marvyn Novick. It explores where to go with the poverty eradication agenda under the new political reality. They outline SPNO's journey toward poverty eradication in Ontario and offer 'new thinking' on reframing decent work and basic income through the life cycle. They raise a series of questions that should be an essential part of any dialogue for inclusive and healthy communities.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

Retrospective on Impact of SPNO’s Poverty Eradication Strategy

Seven years ago, SPNO set an advocacy agenda for active promotion among its member organizations’ in their respective communities across Ontario in the provincial election scheduled for October 2007. The intent of this initiative stipulated timelines and targets to be established, first for the reduction of child and family poverty within five years and then a plan for its elimination in Canada’s sesquicentennial year 2017. Several major strategies in a poverty reduction and elimination plan were proposed:

  1. sustaining employment, so that no families in which a member worked full-year, full-time remained living in poverty; and
  2. a full child benefit ($5,400 per child in poorest families) to supplement employment income in recognition of the public interest in supporting the costs of raising children.

In addition, the SPNO members reaffirmed the importance of strengthening the community support base (e.g. early learning, affordable housing and community support services) as an important component of a poverty reduction strategy.

SPNO recognized decent work and putting an end to working poverty as the cornerstone of its child and family poverty reduction agenda. SPNO rejected the false contentions of the “welfare wall”, where it was assured that people had to be kept in destitution as an incentive to leave social assistance and to accept low wage work.

While the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) proposal and the Put Food in the Budget (PFIB) campaign would not be shaped for two years, the SPNO meeting in the spring of 2007 laid the groundwork for new benchmarks to end both working poverty and deep poverty, calling for a “just differential” between social assistance rates and the minimum wage. By 2017, the goal would be to get working people 20% above the poverty line and people on social assistance up to the poverty line, first by making sure no social assistance recipient lived in deep poverty (below 80% of the poverty line).

These commitments became the central messages for a cross-community awareness campaign over the summer and fall months running up to the election. Along with SPNO’s report naming Ontario the “child poverty centre of Canada”, the community meetings and media coverage contributed to Premier McGuinty’s promise to develop a child and family poverty reduction strategy within the first year of his new administration, if re-elected.

Since 2007, SPNO’s positions on sustaining employment supplemented with essential income supports to reduce and eliminate poverty have been incorporated into major campaigns focusing on raising the minimum wage[1] and moving social assistance rates towards adequacy[2]. The Liberal Government has shown movement towards the demands of the Minimum Wage Campaign. And, persistent cross-community advocacy since 2009 has resulted in resolutions expressing support for the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) in 25 Ontario municipalities and recommendation by the Social Assistance Review Commissioners, leading to the first real income increase in social assistance rates in the 2013 provincial budget in twenty years.[3]

Decent Work and Basic Income Strategies through the Life Cycle

In recent years, the debate about a Guaranteed Annual Income or Basic Income has re-emerged as it has periodically since the 1960s. The prospect of some kind of clear, simple universal income security program is alluring. Expressions of interest from all parts of the political spectrum suggest a potential political consensus on a guaranteed income, which is as unusual as it is attractive.

Where does SPNO’s position on poverty eradication and inequality fit in this current discourse?

Does the Basic Income approach require us to abandon or rethink our public policy stance since 2007?

How should SPNO position itself on this issue as the new provincial government takes office and the federal election approaches in 2015?

If “basic” income means establishing a floor of income adequacy that enables individuals and families to maintain their health and dignity by meeting the cost of daily living needs, then clearly SPNO supports such policy. Some part of the population disconnected from the labour market temporarily or permanently by their situation and personal circumstances (e.g. single parents, persons with disabilities) will require income support programs at basic, adequate levels to ensure that they do not live in poverty. Most will depend on some form of paid work to get by. Too many of these community members in part-time and precarious employment at minimum wage levels cannot meet their basic daily living needs with their earnings.

Social policy emphasizing the workforce as the route out of poverty subjects people to low wage and precarious work and promotes “workfare” for those dependent on income supports, while reliance on income support programs only inevitably sets rates well below adequacy in terms of basic living requirements.

How can labour market and income support policy work together to ensure that poverty is eradicated for all in Ontario?

We already have income support models that recognize the relationship between work and income for vulnerable parts of the population. Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for retiring workers introduced in the 1970s to supplement private pension income and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits had a major impact on reducing seniors’ poverty to below 4%, and were indexed to protect their purchasing power against inflation. Granted, the GIS and CPP need enhancement now to maintain these gains.

It is possible to extend this supplemental income support approach to other stages of life in which people have varying attachments to the workforce. We can think of strategies for decent work and basic income across all stages of the life cycle, which recognize an appropriate and mutually reinforcing relationship between labour market participation and income support requirements as the following suggests:

  1. Children and youth (0-25 years of age) – Income support for this stage in life is important largely in the context of supporting young people in their families. A full National Child Benefit for families recognizes the need for lower income families to have help with the additional costs of raising children (Campaign 2000’s call for increasing the current maximum of $3200/child up to 18 years to $5,500 is consistent with the Basic Income approach suggestion). A Youth Income Benefit for young people 18 to 25 years would enable “debt free” learning and training opportunities and transition to work in their formative years.
  1. Early and middle adulthood (25-55 years of age) – Working age and family adults need positive work experiences in their early adult years and social engagement through employment that allows them to make important civic contributions. It should be a requirement of public policy that decent work with living wages and sound social protections (pension, health, and other social insurances) be available to all working age adults. Working age adults without decent work should have the assurance of community and civic employment at living wages through the nonprofit and local public services sectors. Decent work is becoming less available in the low wage labour markets of the corporate sector.
  1. Later adulthood (55+ years of age) – Begin to extend eligibility for the GIS down from full retirement years to this stage of adulthood. This would protect incomes as needed for adults phasing down from active engagement in the labour market prior to full retirement. The GIS must be upgraded for those fully withdrawn from the workforce when their incomes after OAS and CPP and other pension incomes are inadequate. This would restore full poverty elimination for seniors, a Canadian legacy first achieved in the 1970s.
  1. Appropriate income and service framewrks must be available to support the extraordinary social circumstances for persons with disabilities and persons with chronic physical and mental health conditions.

This approach does not substitute income for employment earnings, nor does it compel workforce participation in order to receive income support. It recognizes that earnings from employment are an important component of maintaining a livelihood, but that labour market detachment at any stage of the life cycle should not condemn one to poverty. Both wage protections and income guarantees are required.

Reframing Decent Work

Since 2007 (and for many of us a decade or more before), SPNO and its cross-community partners in the Poverty Free Ontario (PFO) network have focused a lot of attention on income adequacy – increasing social assistance rates to end deep poverty; raising the minimum wage to get full-time, full-year earners above the poverty line. This concentrated attention has led to some gains and movement of the policy debates in a good direction but we may be allowing ourselves to remain confined to “minimalist” positions when it comes to framing what we think decent work should be. Notably, more communities are not just advocating for raising the minimum wage but are also for work at a “living wage”.

The availability of good and decent jobs should be seen as much of a challenge today as it was at the height of the industrial revolution in the 19th century.[4] Today, in a post-industrial society, good and decent jobs seem a faint hope. Our youth in particular struggle to establish any secure foothold in the labour market, and even with higher levels of education, youth remain subject to mostly short-term and precarious employment. In the face of increasing tuition and living costs for post-secondary education, many youth accumulate high levels of debt and graduate into an economy that offers mostly poor paying service jobs. We are at risk of condemning our younger generations in particular to dismal, unfulfilling futures and chronic spells of poverty and exclusion. Productive employment in these formative early years of their labour force participation is critical.

While good jobs in the traditional economy appear to be scarce, there is no lack of work needed to create a truly sustainable society. It is time to reframe the notion of good jobs in terms of work that needs to be done to build and strengthen our social and civic infrastructure. We need to rebalance our economy from one tilted heavily towards private wealth creation and concentration to one of collective stewardship of our human and financial resources offering shared opportunity for all.

Quality employment guarantees are critical for youth and younger adults as they enter the workforce supplemented with income programs as they make transitions through their working lives. Government incentives and partnerships with the private sector (retail, commercial, industrial) should be directed toward the creation and support of decent, well paying, career development jobs. There is hope that the private sector might recognize its role in contributing to a collective purpose that adequately compensates workers while securing a fair return on investment.

Realistically, however, we should look to city governments and the community sector to show leadership, as the City of Seattle is doing by making a commitment to the highest minimum wage ($15/hour) in North America in response to a strong community advocacy movement.[5] Even recently here in Ontario, the Put Food in the Budget campaign mobilized across communities to secure resolutions in support of the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) in 25 city councils, which was cited by the Social Assistance Review Commissioners in their own recommendation in support of the HFS.

After forty years of market-driven neo-liberal social and economic policy, it is time to disengage from the tyranny of global capital and restore social justice from the ground up with a Civic Declaration on decent work and basic incomes for all. As in Seattle, city governments and the community sector must join their voices to demand senior government support for good jobs in business and in public services. The continued importance of work by nurses, teachers, firefighters and librarians as well as in the social, environmental, recreational, arts and culture sectors must be respected. Governments should support community and civic employment strategies in the public and nonprofit sectors that enable youth and younger adults to start life with a solid foundation of productive employment that builds and strengthens our social, cultural and environmental infrastructure. Civic Declarations directed to this collective purpose would both stimulate economic development and grow the next generation of an active and engaged citizenry.

We have a common stake in creating communities of shared opportunity for all. Investing in work that protects and enhances our environment, supports civic and community wellbeing, and grows local economies will produce social and economic benefits for all. Pursuing this path will demand the activation of a collective stewardship that engages all parts of the community in a discussion of how to work together for the common good.

What work needs to be done to create and sustain the kinds of communities that we want to live in?

What can business, labour, and civic community leaders do to contribute to that shared purpose?

How can the role of the nonprofit sector be expanded as a source of decent work and sustainable development?

Creating Communities of Shared Opportunity

We need to reframe decent work and basic incomes in terms of solidarity, with a mission to create communities of shared opportunity for all across Ontario, while recognizing the complexity of actual human experience through different stages of the life-cycle. We have an obligation to offer other guarantees, most critically that our younger generations will have the opportunity to make their contribution to sustainable social and economic development through the application of their energies, skills and talents in the public, civic, nonprofit, and corporate sectors.

We call on cities and communities to lead the way in framing Civic Declarations for decent work and basic incomes to eradicate poverty within this decade, and to create communities of shared opportunity for all across Ontario.

To this end, it is proposed that the Social Planning Network of Ontario join with its network of community leaders and organizations in Poverty Free Ontario to engage our communities in a discussion of the central tenets of a Civic Declaration, to test its resonance as a herald for structural change, and to explore its implications for both local and cross-community ground-swelling action for social justice in Ontario.

Peter Clutterbuck

Marvyn Novick

Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO)




[3] A 4% increase to the OW Basic Needs Allowance in the 2013 provincial budget ($26/month) was the first real income increase for OW recipients since the 1995 cuts of 22%, all other 1%-2% adjustments since 2003 being for cost of living, and at that were below the annual rate of inflation in several of those years.

[4] Industrial manufacturing jobs in the 19th century were low paying and conducted in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions until unions organized for collective action among labourers and social reformers introduced public controls and regulations for improved employment



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860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail:



October 2014

Community Development Halton recently celebrated 30 years of social planning and volunteerism in Halton. At this event, CDH paid homage to Walter Mulkewich with an award that is called, the Walter Mulkewich Community Development Award. This award will celebrate those extraordinary people who come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems in their community. It seems so fitting that a man who has brought people together to build a healthy, creative community should have an award named in his honour. Walter’s imprint on this community is profound and lasting. He has worked and is working for change in our small place in this world, the totality of his acts have rewritten the history of this community and are influencing its journey into the future.

In this Community Dispatch, I would like to share with you his remarks at our Annual General Meeting, celebrating 30 years of impact.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

Walter Mulkewich: A Celebration
Good evening and thank you for the work of Community Development Halton on behalf of the citizens of Halton.

Anniversaries are an occasion to look back, reflect and learn from the past and also to reflect about the future. I would like to share some personal memories and reflections about the past along with some musings about the present and the future.

Your history is actually longer than 30 years because there were active Social Planning Councils in Oakville dating to the early sixties and in Burlington to the early seventies and before. For many years the Social Planning Council of Hamilton included Burlington in its work, until 1971 when a community meeting established the Burlington Social Planning Council, a meeting I recall attending. From the beginning, this new Council in Burlington was community driven, responding to local community social needs. It started out with a part time Secretary and a small room for an office at Port Nelson United Church.

It was around 1973 that I had lunch with Larry Ogden and Roly Bird, and Roly would later become Mayor. We decided to stand for election to the Board of the Social Planning Council and very quickly Roly became President and I became Vice President.

I recall two of the first issues tackled were the huge need for affordable housing and subsidized childcare – sound familiar? I think these issues are still current? Volunteer committees led both projects. I chaired the housing task force and Rob McKenzie chaired the childcare task force. I mention this because I think there is a lesson here in involving citizens in research projects and advocacy.

One of the early tasks of the Board was to tackle funding – sound familiar? I should note that historically, the Hamilton United Way included Burlington in its catchment area and at first did not understand why a separate Social Planning Council was needed for Burlington. We did our homework, consulted with Burlington agencies, and then met with the Hamilton United Way Board. We argued our case that it was underfunding the Burlington Social Planning Council and Burlington agencies and threatened to set up a Burlington only United Way – and we got increased funding. We also went to the City Council and got a larger grant. Our goal at the time was to establish sustainable funding with municipal contribution at 60% and United Way at 40% – currently CDH is at 44% and 30% leaving 26% to be raised elsewhere. The connection to the United Way is important not only because of the funding but because traditionally Social Planning Councils have been important research arms for United Ways and I hope continue to be so.

With increased funding we hired our first Executive Director, Ted McMeekin, now Minster of Municipal Affairs & Housing and we established a real office on lower Brant Street.

The drive towards a Regional Social Planning Council was partly initiated by the Burlington and Oakville Social Planning Councils having joint discussions regarding cooperation. But mostly, it was a forced marriage by municipal governments saying continued funding to both Burlington and Oakville Social Planning Councils depended on going Regional and also including the fledgling Social Planning Council established in north Halton.

Mayor Bird led the way by taking the position that the Region was responsible for social services and regional planning and that the appropriate place for funding was at the Region not the local municipalities, a position I supported. And, other social services were forced to do the same. The next Executive Director was Susan Goodman followed by Elaine Eastman and then Joey Edwardh.

I recall being appointed Regional Council representative on the first Halton Social Planning Council and Volunteer Bureau Board – and if you don't have a Regional Council representative on your Board now you might wish to consider that because that is an important link. It was not an easy process bringing together people from four municipalities, merging two Social Planning Councils with different cultures from south Halton, and bringing in the social planning group from north Halton.

Councillor Mulvale, later Mayor Mulvale of Oakville, who succeeded me as the Regional representative on the Board, we had a late breakfast last week and shared some memories of the challenges in those days:

  • We recalled that Dundas Street was like the Mason Dixon Line separating north and south Halton and Bronte Creek the line separating west and east Halton.
  • We recalled that there was not only quite a large Halton Social Planning Council Board, but also additional Advisory Boards for each of the four municipalities, a concept that has disappeared - for good or bad?
  • And, there was no Halton United Way as attempts to establish a Halton United Way did not succeed. But, United Ways were established in Milton and Halton Hills, although these two United Ways have never been significant contributors to the Social Planning Council, which represents a real gap for a Regional agency. The Hamilton United Way changed its' branding to be the Burlington Hamilton United Way and paid more attention to Burlington. The Oakville United Way continued to be a major player.

At an early point, Volunteer Bureaus were established in both Oakville and Burlington in the seventies as part of their respective Social Planning Councils. I should note that combining Volunteer Bureaus and Social Planning is not a trend across Ontario, but it has worked in Halton. I should also note that the role and challenges of the Volunteer Bureau in the seventies was somewhat different than it is now. In the seventies, very few organizations had their own Volunteer recruitment staff and recruitment procedures and I think there was a more robust sense of community participation.

I think it is fair to note that the role of the Volunteer Bureau has adapted to changing society and needs by doing much more than linking volunteers to agencies but also to promoting volunteerism and providing information, and providing training and support to local service providers, as well as targeting population groups and corporations. Just looking at the Volunteer Halton website, which is a really good site, reveals the huge service this program of CDH provides the community – a treasure for Halton and its four municipalities which we could not do without.

Social Planning has always been a difficult concept for many people to understand and, yes, for some to accept. Indeed there are many definitions and viewpoints as to what social planning is. My simple layperson definition is that it is a process to assess social issues in a community through research and community participation with a view to improving the wellbeing of the community.

I defined Social Planning as a process. The problem is that people have a hard time understanding processes – but rather want to see results and how those processes benefit them - and this has always been a challenge for social planning, not only to focus on process, but also to demonstrate results from those processes in terms of improvement in the wellbeing of the community – and here is where good communication comes in.

I think that communication has always been an issue social planning has had to deal with. It is about communication to the community, the partners and the funders – but it's about communicating results. My experience in sales and marketing tells me that you do not sell a product - but the benefits of the product. And, I think you need to continually and clearly identify the benefits you are providing specifically to your community, your partners and your funders.

The Halton Social Planning Council rebranded itself as Community Development Halton 10 years ago. Your website lists community development as one element of social planning and is defined as facilitating and supporting "positive change in partnership with community groups and individuals." Indeed social planning and community development must be interconnected and I am not sure where one starts and the other ends.

Over these past thirty years, CDH, its Volunteer Centre, the various reports and the community involvement have been essential to the wellbeing of the Region.

I want to single out two initiatives in recent times:

  • Your work with Poverty Free Halton along with your research on the living wage are particularly important in facing one of the major social issues of this decade, poverty and inequality.
  • Your report on "Where We Live Matters" and neighbourhoods along with your participatory work in the north Burlington and Acton neighbourhoods is taking a community organizing approach which I do not think anyone else in Halton is undertaking. It is about empowerment, building social capital and building community capacity.

On a personal note, I certainly appreciated the help of CDH in two projects I was involved with:

  • The citizen engagement project which I helped to lead in 2010, a project initiated by Mayor Jackson and which was named, Shape Burlington.
  • I also appreciated the role of CDH in the Inclusive Cities Project in 2005, a project that former Mayor MacIsaac and Joey Edwardh co-opted me to participate in and which I was pleased to do.

In 2014, I see three big challenges facing our communities, challenges we face with the rest of Canada:

  • The increasing inequality gap, an issue you focused on when you helped to host Alex Himelfarb and Trish Hennessy in a public meeting, an issue CDH is active in through several of your projects.
  • The climate change challenges as demonstrated by the recent Burlington flood, and increasingly I believe we need to see the challenges of climate change as a social issue and there may be a role there.
  • The dual decline of democracy and social capital, two important concepts that are interrelated and need increasing attention. Democracy is more than the percentage of people who vote, which has been declining; it is also about social capital. I really do believe that we have lost some of the sense of social capital as identified by Robert Putnam who succinctly pointed out that we no longer bowl together in bowling leagues.

Let me conclude by talking a bit about social capital and the future.

Social capital is all about the institutions, relationships and networks that bind us together as a society. Unfortunately, the neo-liberal political and social philosophy that has dominated a lot of discourse since the nineteen eighties has put the focus on individuals rather than social capital. I am not sure we can recreate the kind of social capital that was the hallmark of the great generation that experienced the Great Depression and the Great War and who gave us a progressive society. It is more likely that we can build increased social capital on another model for different times, times that are increasingly characterized by individualism but also new social capital through digital relationships and communication.

In this time of the decline of traditional media, including both print media and television, I think you will need to become more involved and savvier with the world of social media for both communication and research. I believe that you need to strategically expand your presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. This is about involving the community, particularly the younger generations, and it is about two-way communication – and increasingly this will be digital.

Yes, the political climate is still dominated by austerity and retrenchment, which affects funding sources and receptivity to your work. This too will likely change, because these things go in cycles, but in the meantime this organization need to find ways to work within that austerity climate, and I think to do so you have to emphasize the benefits of your work and bring in solid support from as many sectors of the community as possible.

It is easy for me to identify three major issues, to throw out some ideas, personal memories and reflections. I could have gone on to talk about other issues such as diversity, youth employment, aging and mobility. Your priorities will need to be identified by the community, in consultation with your funders and community partners, and verified by the rigour of research.

This means remembering the first principles in the history of community social planning and volunteerism – that it is about being community driven. And it is about the courage to take a stand on issues, which you identify.

These are only a few reflections about the past and random thoughts about moving into the future. Again, I want to congratulate and thank CDH for your continuing work and hope you can build on your history as you continue to adapt to the future.


  Community Dispatch PDF

Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail: