Poverty in Canada has increased: STATSCAN reports

As expected, the effects of the recession were felt across the country and caused an increase in the number of Canadians struggling with low-income.  Yesterday, STATSCAN released its report on incomes for 2009, which indicated that almost 10% of the population (3.2 million) is struggling with poverty, and average incomes have stagnated.   This confirms what many social justice and anti-poverty advocates have long stated in the past year looking at recent foodbank and social assistance reports – poverty in Canada is getting worse.

More families in poverty mean more children in poverty, and once again, British Columbia tops the list as the province with the worst record.  For 8 years in a row, BC has had the worst rate of child poverty, and in 2009 the numbers jumped from 10.4% to 12% – which means that 100,000 children are struggling in families with low-income.   Adrienne Montani, Provincial Coordinator for First Call BC, a children and youth advocacy group that produces the BC Child Poverty Report Card, responded to the news yesterday,

“Fighting poverty is good for the people of British Columbia,” Montani said. “And it’s also good politics. Polling data tells us there is strong public support for governments that show leadership by taking action on this issue.”  She also mentioned that BC remains one of three provinces without a provincial poverty plan, although on June 3rd legislation for a strategy was introduced by NDP opposition member Shane Simpson.

The three provinces hit hardest by the recession – Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia – reveal a second story that deserves attention: one of rising inequality.   Income distribution in these provinces is heavily skewed to support the richest portion of the population, reports the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. This leaves little in the hands of those with low income, many of which work for low wages.  Canada Without Poverty Executive Director Rob Rainer believes part of the problem lies in tax system that does not adequately redistribute wealth  in this country, and idea supported by other organizations, reports, and authors, and one reason CWP supports a “Tax Benefits Day” which highlights the importance of a fair, progressive tax system.

One other key ingredient in addressing poverty that requires immediate attention is the lack of an official poverty line. Canada has for years used the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO) as one tool to measure ‘poverty’, but has not confirmed that this tool, or any other, is the actual measure by which all provinces can compare current realities.  LICO is an outdated measurement that considers whether people are spending 60% or more on basic necessities.  If they are, this is considered an indicator that they are living in poverty.  The income levels listed in LICO are based on incomes from 1992, so in fact, can hide the actual number of Canadians struggling.

Canada Without Poverty has repeatedly said that a federal poverty plan that works with provincial and territorial plans already in place, that defines poverty in Canada, targets, timelines and measurement tools, and holds governments to account, is what is needed to for real progress on the depth and breadth of poverty to be made.  Dignity for All: the campaign for a poverty-free Canada, which we co-lead with Citizens for Public Justice and Make Poverty History continues to gain support for parliamentarians, individuals and organizations who agree that a strategy is important to make change.

Poverty is not an isolated event – it affects health, the economy, and society as a whole.  All Canadians will benefit from its elimination, but it requires political leadership for this to happen

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