At this point the economic case for austerity — for slashing government spending even in the face of a weak economy — has collapsed. Claims that spending cuts would actually boost employment by promoting confidence have fallen apart. Claims that there is some kind of red line of debt that countries dare not cross have turned out to rest on fuzzy and to some extent just plain erroneous math. Predictions of fiscal crisis keep not coming true; predictions of disaster from harsh austerity policies have proved all too accurate.

Yet calls for a reversal of the destructive turn toward austerity are still having a hard time getting through. Partly that reflects vested interests, for austerity policies serve the interests of wealthy creditors; partly it reflects the unwillingness of influential people to admit being wrong. But there is, I believe, a further obstacle to change: widespread, deep-seated cynicism about the ability of democratic governments, once engaged in stimulus, to change course in the future.

Looking for affordable accommodations in York Region?

Don’t make plans for the next 10 years or so.

The waiting list for rent-geared-to-income units is about 9,500 families long, meaning some of those families will wait a decade or more for subsidized housing, depending on the size of unit they seek and their desired location, community and health services commissioner Adelina Urbanski said.

Part of the reason the waiting list has grown by leaps and bounds is because there’s just no supply out there, Ms Urbanski said, adding thing worsened when the economic downturn hit.

And while the region would like to build more affordable housing to meet the growing need, funding — or lack thereof — limits how much help it can provide at any given time.

Kathleen Wynne’s first budget provides concrete progress on social assistance reforms; but there are also missed opportunities to address increasing inequality in Ontario.

The budget delivered best on social assistance reforms. In contrast to the cutbacks to Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefits in last year’s budget, this year’s budget showed concrete progress in three areas. First, it moved forward in eliminating a number of “stupid rules” that were punitive and made life for people living on social assistance difficult and unaffordable. Second, it increased social assistance rates and acknowledged the desperate situation for single people living on Ontario Works by providing them with a larger increase (however, rates still remain so low that they continue to endanger health; people will still have to choose between rent and food). Last, it outlined next steps in the development of the poverty reduction strategy, including consultation with affected communities.

As I have said before, the government must consider a national food strategy to combat the growing issue of food insecurity. At the time of my question, the UN rapporteur on the right to food finished his visit to Canada and expressed concern that we were not meeting our obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which we signed in 2010, by the way. He has since delivered his report to the UN Human Rights Council with a similar message.

The inaccessibility of nutritious, culturally appropriate and sustainably developed food is a problem that disproportionately affects aboriginal and northern communities in Canada. There are a number of factors that limit one’s ability to acquire this food. One of the major factors is income. We know that more than 20% of aboriginal people fall below the Statistics Canada low-income cutoff rate. By way of comparison, only 11% of the rest of our population shares this circumstance.

Volunteers at food banks and meal programs earn their angel wings. They beat the bushes for funds, do a loaves-and-fishes routine with scarce resources, and keep hunger at bay for thousands.

And they get tired. Not of the work but of the grinding poverty that keeps so many showing up month after month and constantly sends new people through their doors. So volunteers in Ontario have formed a union. They call it the Freedom 90 Union “because we want to retire from volunteering at food banks or emergency meal programs—before we are 90 years old!”

They have three demands for the Government of Ontario …

It’s time for food banks to pump up the volume and start challenging the community to do something more significant than donating a few tins of canned fish whenever the shelves are bare. They should be joining with those voices who want to build a more inclusive community, one that will give all citizens access to affordable housing, nutritious food and appropriate medical care.

Building bigger, more efficient food banks may temporarily feed more hungry people, but they won’t end hunger and they won’t prevent the users of this system from feeling like second-class citizens in a first-class world.

If you live on welfare or disability benefits, you understand what it’s like to do without. If you live in a shelter, you know what it’s like to have no home. If you feed your kids from a food bank, you know the dull ache of hunger.

Marc Hamel is a money manager. What does he know? As it happens, he floored me with knowledge.

Hamel noted that those who live in poverty are sicker more often, and sicker longer, than people who are not poor, and that puts a burden on the health-care system. Here’s a direct quote:

“Someone living in the lowest quintile of income earners will use the health-care system 50 per cent more than the average person. This is as a result of higher stress, poor nutrition, substandard housing and an unstable social environment.”

He said that the cost to the health-care system is somewhere around $3 billon a year.