Social spending an investment in future, Catholic Charities says

By 
  • January 26, 2011
Rose of Sharon TORONTO - When Ontario Finance Minster Dwight Duncan receives the pre-budget submission from Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto, he’s not going to be surprised by the spending priorities of the 28 agencies Catholic Charities funds. But Catholic Charities hopes to catch Duncan’s attention with their reasons for increased social spending.

Catholic Charities agencies serve Toronto communities by supporting teenaged mothers, helping the deaf, caring for young people with developmental disabilities, providing day care and counselling couples and families in crisis. They want Duncan to put money in service of the poor. They’re asking for:

  •  a $100 a month healthy food supplement to welfare payments to try to reduce reliance on food banks for 375,000 people every month who visit an Ontario food bank;

  •  raising the Ontario Child Benefit for low-income families to $1,500 by 2013. The $1,100 OCB is scheduled to rise to $1,310 by 2013;

  •  movement on allowing towns and cities to require affordable housing in future housing developments, a concept called “inclusionary zoning”;

  •  more money to build and repair public housing.

“The idea is that if you help families you’re going to help the children of those families. They go hand-in-glove,” said Jack Panozzo, Catholic Charities program manager. “Those are the kinds of supports that should be in a poverty-reduction plan.”

Duncan is likely to hear similar requests from other social agencies and anti-poverty groups. But Catholic Charities executive director Michael Fullan wants Duncan to think of spending in these areas as investments.

“We’re not just putting money in these areas, as we do each year,” Fullan said. “We’re making strategic investments.”

The logic of social-spending-as-investment isn’t new. These days it goes by the name “social return on investment.” The argument is that money spent to properly house a poor, teenaged mother and her baby, along with money spent on day care and other programs to help her finish her education, will build wealth when she finishes school and integrates into the work force. Increasing chances that she becomes a good parent and her child grows up to be a functioning, tax-paying citizen is a further benefit to the provincial bottom line. Along the way the government may avoid costs associated with the child welfare system, the homeless shelter system, the prison system and avoidable health care costs.

The argument makes a change from more usual hectoring of politicians that they should spend on social programs because it’s the right thing to do. But Catholic Charities doesn’t have to choose between prodding the government’s conscience and tempting them with a long-term investment, said Liberal party advisor John Duffy of Strategy Corp.

“That is an excellent argument and a valuable addition to the moral duty argument,” said Duffy. “I would never want to choose between the two... the social return on investment argument is a powerful one and is a very important tool when persuading policy makers that morality is affordable.”

The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, which includes Ontario’s Assembly of Catholic Bishops and several religious orders, usually presents a brief to pre-budget consultations, but this year has chosen to concentrate on getting ready for the October provincial elections. ISARC has called a meeting Jan. 28 at the College Street United Church to figure out how the faith communities can persuade the government to add a $100 healthy food supplement to welfare and keep poverty reduction on the election radar.

Anybody arguing for social spending should show what the spending will achieve and how, said Duffy.

“The really great part of the social return on investment argument is that it shows the doability,” he said.

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