From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Poverty: The invisible issue of #ONelxn

The issue of poverty and inequality while perhaps the defining issues of our time have received little or no attention from any of the Parties or the media in the lead up to this years election .In Ontario,1.7 million people live in poverty, the highest poverty rate in the past 30 years.Ontario’s poverty rate is rising sharply, as evidenced by more than 400,000 people using food banks in 2010 , up 28% from the 2008 total of 314,250.

HungerCount 2010, a national survey of food banks provides a depressing picture of hunger and poverty in Ontario
  • 402,056 individuals were assisted, March 2010
  • +7% change since March 2009 
  • 37% are children 
  • 11% report employment income 
  • 4% receive Employment Insurance 
  • 45% receive social assistance 
  • 23% receive disability-related income supports 
  • 74% of food banks saw an increase

While they have talked about the very real need to create jobs, a job is no sure ticket out of poverty. At the current minimum wage in Ontario, a person working full-time earns $1,064 below the poverty line. One-third of all children living in poverty in Canada in 2008 were in families with a parent working full-time.

Social assistance rates in this province are criminally insufficient,the amount provided a single mother raising a child falls 45 per cent below the poverty line, for a single person the rate is 61% below the poverty line

Today even having an education provides no guarantee of escaping the poverty trap.In Canada 50% of the people living in poverty have some post-secondary education and 45% of the unemployed had a post-secondary education or degree.

One of the biggest challenges faced by those living in poverty is housing costs. Rent is a fixed cost that must be paid no matter what, leading many to sacrifice eating in order to pay their rent. 42% of food bank clients report not eating a single bite of food for at least one day in the past year. The average food bank client also pays 72% of their income for shelter. One in every five Ontario tenant households spends over 50% of their income on rent. Paying anything over 50% puts people at a high risk of homelessness.

The solution to housing costs is at our finger tips, A Housing Benefit for Ontario, an affordable and fully costed plan put together by community and business groups is a good starting point for relieving the stresses of finding the money to provide shelter for oneself and family. See also Q&A: A Housing Benefit for Ontario 

Clearly raising the minimum wage and providing adequate social assistance and disability income support would be of great benefit,however perhaps it is time to revisit the notion of a guaranteed annual income. Many Canadians would be surprised to learn that we actually ran a pilot project titled Mincome in the 70s that studied the impacts of a GAI.

It was terminated after three years with no final report produced, however thanks to Dr. Evelyn Forget,who gained access to the boxes upon boxes of documents,we do know the outcomes were largely positive. For instance contrary to popular belief there was almost no negative impact on the recipients motivation to seek and maintain employment.Domestic abuse declined and hospital visits dropped.

For more info on Mincome see Canadian Reports on Guaranteed Income at Livible 4 All


  1. You write that poverty and inequality are "the defining issues of our time."

    Decades of research now inform us that inequality is the underlying factor in a host of health and social ills and that addressing inequality is an effective and efficient way to address poverty.

    "How societies become more equal is much less important than whether or not they do so.... Preventing excessively high incomes and concentrations of wealth at the top is as important as pulling up the incomes at the bottom, and the first clearly provides the means for the second."
    The Equality Trust.

    In discussions, I find more acceptance of the need to address income excesses at the top than to address income insufficiencies at the bottom.

  2. Hi,William Well said, dealing with the top end of the income spectrum is imperative and yes there is much greater consensus with dealing with that end of the equation. This is likely due to the demonetization of the poor.