City budget shirking social service spending, study finds
A Carleton University study has found the city is spending less on social services than it did five years ago – while demand is going up.
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Ottawa’s community advocates have long said social service spending is lacking, but now they’ve got data to prove it.
A new study from Carleton University researcher Steve Pomeroy has found the city’s annual budget for things like police and parks has increased over the past five years, while social services spending has dropped.
Per capita, taxpayers contributed about $200 to community and social services in 2016, compared to $222 in 2012, the study found.
And funding as a share of the total budget dropped to 13 per cent in 2016 from 15.8 per cent in 2012.
Cameron MacLeod, co-chair of the Coalition for Community Health and Research Centres, commissioned the research from Carleton’s Centre for Urban Research and Education to back up what his colleagues have long suspected.
“We’ve seen a gap between the need and our ability to deliver,” said MacLeod.
City-funded agencies do get a 1.5 per cent operational boost each year, in line with inflation. But it’s not enough, he said.
A survey of the city’s social service agencies found demand has increased between 17 and 300 per cent for most organizations, for everything from food security to mental health services to housing assistance.
“And the acuity of their needs is higher,” MacLeod said. “There’s a little more desperation.”
That’s particularly true this year, as the city welcomed 1,500 Syrian refugees but agencies received no extra funding to serve them.
MacLeod hopes the new study will give advocates more clout heading into budget season.
“It provides us with evidence that something needs to be done,” he said.
He’d like to see $500,000 to relieve service pressures, a long-term funding plan, and support for a low-income transit pass.
He also wants councillors to consider raising taxes above the self-imposed two-per cent cap.
Even an extra one per cent would add $14 million to the city’s coffers, while costing taxpayers an average of $36 a year, he said.
Mayor Jim Watson said through his spokesperson that the city has invested “record amounts” in housing and homelessness programs in recent years.
Spokesperson Livia Belcea added the mayor’s social strategy “includes keeping property taxes affordable in order to avoid pushing City of Ottawa residents into poverty.”