Impact 2020-21: Lending an expert voice

The #LocalLove Letter, Impact Report 2020-21: Our Pandemic year
United Way recognized as Living Wage Employer November 2019

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Grassroots issues like paid sick days, living wage, safe working conditions and affordable housing are top of mind now.

Dani Bartlett
Labour Coordinator,
United Way Elgin Middlesex

Addressing complex social challenges requires complex strategies. Public policy work, including advocacy and government relations, is part of what United Way does every day.

Public policy work is sewn into the fabric of United Way’s day-to-day, from relationship building, storytelling and convening unlikely partners around an important issue, to finding windows of opportunity, especially during a pandemic.

“COVID-19 has cut through the noise and brought key labour values to the forefront,” says Dani Bartlett, Labour Coordinator, United Way Elgin Middlesex. “Grassroots issues like paid sick days, living wage, safe working conditions and affordable housing are top of mind now.”

As a strong, non-partisan advocate, United Way works to keep important issues like these front-and-centre with leaders at all three levels of government.

Locally, United Way joined the Middlesex London Health Unit and others to publicly support the 466 York St. location for a Supervised Consumption Facility and spoke publicly about the proposed program, harm reduction and the impact of opioid use in this community, an issue heightened by COVID-19. In November 2020, the site was approved.

Provincially, United Way joined more than 100 other social services and signed on to Ontario for All, an advocacy platform calling on the province to address systemic inequality, income security, childcare and mental health support and more—and to start planning now for a just and inclusive recovery.

Recent data shows that non-profits across Canada are experiencing a 37% drop in donations due to the effects of COVID-19. Many of the long-standing services vulnerable Canadians depend on have closed permanently, and many more are at risk.

When the national conversation moved toward recovery, she shared that local people still needed basics like access to technology devices and food delivery. “We were able to say: we’re still in the midst of this, we’re anticipating a second and third wave.”

With a mandate for sector sustainability,United Way Centraide Canada (UWCC) and other national charities advocated for two policy solutions targeting the Federal government: 18-month bridge funding to see non-profits through the recovery and a donation matching program to re-boot philanthropic giving.

“Support from the federal government is not just an investment in United Way,” says Dan Clement, President & CEO, and Secretary of the Board for UWCC, in comments published December 11, 2020 in The Globe and Mail. “It is an investment in emergency response today, recovery tomorrow, and the future resiliency of communities.”

United Way Elgin Middlesex joined peer United Ways across Canada to bring a hyper-local view to the national advocacy efforts.

“United Way is deeply connected to the communities we serve,” says Sara Middleton, Director, Community Impact. “We know what’s happening on the frontlines in our communities and what we’re seeing as a funder and collaborator.”

The resulting national policy solutions continue to address basic needs just as they look ahead to recovery—one example of United Way’s advocacy work as an ongoing cycle providing local insights to inform provincial and national policies that translate into local action.

“Policy advocacy is long game,” says Middleton. “But we’re hopeful that the spirit of collaboration that helped us through the pandemic will get us through the recovery.”