Funding cuts won't do

A Town Crier Community Column

Over the holidays, Toronto learned the gap between its haves and have-nots is widening.

This is nothing new or surprising; it’s the result of decades of policy choices.

We hear a lot about how to reduce the poverty we see growing in our city. But we don’t hear much about how to do it, or how cuts like one threatening literacy programs can actually make poverty worse.

PTP on the Danforth has been helping adults improve basic literacy skills since the early 1990s. During the last major recession, it started to teach unemployed workers the skills needed to read, write and do simple math. Demand for the services has only grown since.

The benefits to the students are obvious. People with literacy skills are 20 percent more likely to have a job, while people without are twice as likely to be unemployed for long periods.

All the same, about one-in-five grade 10 students failed their basic literacy test. About two-thirds of people arriving at correctional facilities have less than a grade 8 reading level. And 50 percent of adults with low literacy skills live in poverty.

During the recent global financial crisis, joblessness grew fastest among those with lower skills, including literacy. And it’s hard to see an economic recovery without better skills.

So it’s outrageous that community literacy programs, like PTP on the Danforth, are facing serious cuts. Even the McGuinty Liberals agree. The province recently wrote Ottawa, saying proposed cuts could throw 13,000 people who use services like PTP out of school.

At issue is the federal government’s decision to end funding for programs like literacy, which were included in its stimulus package to fight the recession. Ontario stands to lose $315 million in funding.

Barbara McFater, who runs PTP, says the federal top-up helped the centre double its work. Without a solution soon, PTP and services like it throughout Ontario face drastic cuts up to a half.

Literacy programs are too important to be lost in a scuffle between federal and provincial governments. And property taxes will end up bearing the cost, as welfare is paid for by the city.

Provincial funding for literacy hasn’t increased for a decade. If the work centres like PTP do is valuable enough to warn Stephen Harper about cutting, it’s also valuable enough for Dalton McGuinty to find a solution — before we learn that Toronto’s income gap has grown again.

About this article:

By: Peter Tabuns
Posted: Jan 18 2011 3:57 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto