By Chad Ingram
Addressing barriers to employment and continuing education – such as transportation and affordable child care and housing – could help reduce poverty in Haliburton County.
Executive director of the Kawartha Lakes Family Health Team Mike Perry and public health nurse Mary Lou Mills visited Haliburton County councillors on Nov. 25 to present an employment and education action plan part of the poverty reduction strategy for the county and City of Kawartha Lakes.
Information for the strategy which has been a years- long process was collected though research as well as residents surveys.
Initially the surveys were filled out mainly by social services workers and educators Perry said.
“So we redid the survey because we wanted to hear from people who are experiencing poverty at the moment” he told councillors. “No one we talked to was looking for a handout.”
What they were looking for was better access to jobs continuing education and skills training. However there can be barriers to accessing those opportunities one such barrier being child care.
As Mills pointed out in the current economy many people are employed precariously through contract or part-time work.
“When people are precariously employed they tend to work varying hours” Mills said adding this does not coalesce well with an outdated child care system that offers 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours.
Other barriers include lack of affordable housing transportation and high-speed Internet.
“High-speed Internet is again a huge asset that is needed” Mills said referring to one case of single mother who wanted to take some online courses but couldn’t because she couldn’t get reliable Internet.
“We’re losing all the middle income” Mills continued explaining there is increased demand for highly skilled people and lower pay for those without such skills.
The percentage of Ontarians making within $4 of minimum wage per hour has risen from 19.8 per cent in 1997 to 29.4 per cent in 2014.
Mills said that according to research 70 per cent of all jobs in the area within the next six years will require some form of post-secondary education meanwhile some 15 per cent of students in the area are still not graduating high school.
Perry who was the NDP candidate for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock in the October federal election said that “All candidates agreed and found that creating jobs in the area is the No. 1 priority in this riding.”
Perry stressed the importance of having a skilled work force. If an IT company announced that it wanted to set up shop in Minden for example would Haliburton County have the workforce to be able to accommodate that he posed.
Among the recommendations in the plan is the development and implementation of strategies to target business and industry retention and expansion and to attract new businesses that provide stable employment and a living wage.
A living wage means one that allows a person to pay for more than just the bare necessities. For Haliburton County a living wage is in the area of $15 to $16 dollars an hour.
Other recommendations of the plan are to collaborate with community stakeholders to develop a workforce development and training program based on labour force needs; improving infrastructure such as broadband high-speed Internet and transportation; and increasing life and job skills readiness programs.
“What it needs is political will” Perry said. “We challenge council with this agenda.”
County Warden and Dysart el al Reeve Murray Fearrey told Perry that he had the easy part of the job – creating the report – and that implementation was a lot more difficult.
Fearrey pointed to the financial stresses being put on townships by the province such as the new OPP billing model.