Updated Poverty Numbers released


Statistics Canada released annual numbers on low-income last week illustrating that poverty remains a persistent problem across the country.  The 2011 numbers are the most recent data available as there is a two-year gap between the release of these figures.   The Low-Income Cut-off After-Tax which looks at a family who spends more than 60% of their income on basic needs after taxes and transfers are considered (based on 1992 figures, which are outdated), puts the overall poverty rate in Canada in 2011 at 8.8% – a 0.2% improvement from 2010.  What this means is 3 million people in Canada are still living in poverty.

Meanwhile, child poverty across the country has increased, moving from 8.2% in 2010 to 8.5% in 2011.  With numbers like this, it would be prudent to suggest it is time to re-evaluate federal programs and policies related to poverty. This includes child care,  income supports and housing. Assistance in these areas would reduce poverty numbers and save the government money.

Those in the middle are not faring that well either. Incomes remain stagnant for families with at least two-people – there has been no change in the median income between 2010 and 2011 for this income groups, and since 2011 there has only been a modest increase from $66,700 to $68,000.

The Stats Can report uses words like “stable” to describe this, when the truth is that incomes are not rising and yet costs of living are.  Food and shelter costs were two main factors behind a 0.7% increase in the Consumer Price Index between May 2012 – 2013.  Fresh vegetables saw an increase of 5.8% while bakery products rose 3.9%.  Would this, compared to stagnant incomes, be ‘stable’? Would a family who has to pay rent, feed the kids, pay for transport, etc, feel stable?  It is ironic that a term denoting unwavering income levels describes the opposite reality felt by individuals and families experiencing this trend.

Alberta was the only province in which families with two-persons or more saw an increase in after-tax median income, moving from $80,400 in 2010 to $83,800 in 2011.  Sadly, on the other end of the spectrum is Ontario, the only province where a single person actually experienced a decrease in median income – dropping from $28,600 to $25,900.

Recently in May, the premier of Ontario chose not to raise the minimum wage, so it holds at $10.25/hr (since 2010).  Anti-poverty advocates in the province propose raising the minimum wage to $14/hr, which would ensure adequate income to meet basic needs.  The 2011 statistics offer fresh fodder for this debate.

Of course an increase in the minimum wage would only reach those who are employed.  In order to ensure individuals on social assistance rise above the poverty line the province of Ontario would  have to implement the recommendations made as a result of the 2012 Social Assistance Review, which included an immediate increase of $100 for single persons and the creation of an independent advisory group to establish adequate rates. (Read more)

Poverty in BC – Still the Highest in Canada

The overall poverty rate in BC remains the worst in Canada.  While the poverty rate dropped from 10.5% in 2010 to 11.3% in 2011, BC holds its place at the bottom and remains one of only two provinces without a provincial poverty plan.

BC child poverty rates rose in 2011 to 93,000 – an increase of 7,000 children – which makes BC now tied with Manitoba for the worst child poverty rate in the country.  BC held this shameful title for almost 8 consecutive years until last year, when it rose to 2nd last.

First Call BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition noted today in a press release that when you delve deeper into family types the numbers get worse.  For lone-parent mothers the poverty rate soared moving from 16.4% to 24.6%, representing 27,000 children.   For two-parent families with children the numbers experiencing poverty grew as well by 10,000 to a total of 61,000 children.  This is shocking for a one-year time period.

While the BC government is reticent to implement a provincial poverty plan, they did attempt to work with seven cities across BC to establish local poverty strategies.  No funding was given to the cities and regions were left to develop their own initiative based on local services.  Since this announcement in April 2012, there has been no update from the BC government on the status of these ‘plans’ or poverty in these communities.  Looking at the recent numbers, the patchwork anti-poverty programs and focus on jobs is not enough to address poverty.

Lessons from Ontario’s campaign to cut child poverty

Published Wed Jul 03 2013

By Greg deGroot-Maggetti, Margaret Hancock and Heather McGregor

Child poverty in Ontario has dropped for a third consecutive year. According to the latest figures just released by Statistics Canada, Ontario’s child poverty rate of 13.8 per cent in 2011 was down from 15.2 per cent three years earlier.

While the reductions in child poverty in Ontario appear to be trending behind the government’s five-year target for a 25-per-cent reduction by 2013, the fact that poverty has fallen at the same time as a major economic downturn speaks volumes about the return on investment so far of the province’s poverty reduction strategy.

As Ontario sets out to consult regarding its next five-year anti-poverty strategy, the past strategy provides five important lessons.

The first is that setting targets matters.

What gets measured gets counted. In 2008, a broad consensus emerged that successfully reducing and eliminating poverty had to start with a multi-year plan based on a clear target. Ontario’s commitment to reducing child and family poverty by 25 per cent in five years was precedent-setting. It has been critical in keeping poverty reduction on the policy radar through hard economic times. Legislated requirements have ensured public accountability for progress.

As a next step, Ontario should ramp up action to ensure that the initial 25-per-cent reduction is achieved. Looking forward, the next strategy should seek a further 25-per-cent reduction in poverty by 2018. This time, the target should include all Ontarians, including children.

The second lesson is that public engagement matters.

Ontario’s engagement with all sectors of society in the development of its first poverty reduction plan seeded growing recognition that investing in people today is good for all of us in the long-term.

It leads to a healthier population and safer communities that reduce healthcare and social services costs down the road. It drives a resilient, productive workforce where all hands are on deck to move Ontario forward. And it means we create a fair society that we are all proud of, where everybody belongs and has an opportunity to contribute.

Community consultations highlighted the specific needs of populations that are at heightened risk such as immigrants, women, single mothers, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples and racialized groups – and these specific needs were recognized in the Strategy.

As it looks ahead, Ontario should consult widely again and be particularly attentive to hearing from those with lived experience of poverty.

Third, there are no silver bullets when it comes to complex issues such as poverty.

Taking a long view to a complex issue allows for a planned approach to action. Ensuring that work pays, building strong income security programs, and creating a strong social infrastructure of affordable housing and quality child care are all essential elements of an anti-poverty package. These are not quick, simple steps. But a clear multi-year schedule of policy and investments over the next five years can ensure we get to our destination.

Fourth, good social policy makes all the difference.

The ultimate measure of success of Ontario’s plan is whether it is progressing towards its target. Ontario’s three-year decline in child and family poverty could only have happened because the province chose to invest in programs that could move the needle.

Substantial investments in the new Ontario Child Benefit, coupled with targeted tax credits, successive increases in the minimum wage, employment standards reforms and early learning investments have been the strategy’s strong points. Building on this success should include an adult conversation about growing Ontario’s revenue base to provide fiscal capacity to act. We should remember that breaking the poverty cycle for thousands of Ontarians is the best return on investment the province can make.

Lastly, when it comes to investments, you only get out of it as much as you put in.

Based on data for the first three years of the strategy, Ontario is moving too slowly to achieve the target of a 25-per-cent reduction in child poverty within five years. But three consecutive years of reduction in child and family poverty is an encouraging, hard-won trend, especially in a slow economic recovery. By contrast, poverty rates for working age adults in Ontario continued to climb because there has not been a concerted effort to address poverty among all Ontarians.

The most important lesson of all is that building dignity and opportunity for all cannot stop at words and aspirations.

What Ontario chooses to do with its next poverty reduction strategy will be a measure of its continued commitment to fairness and prosperity for all. Now is the time to build on success and to close the gaps between words and actions, to be bold in our intention, target and action, and to make a real difference for all Ontarians.

 Greg deGroot-Maggetti is co-chair of the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction;Margaret Hancock is Executive Director of Family Service Toronto; and Heather McGregor is CEO of YWCA Toronto.