Breaking the Barriers

By Darlene O'Leary

From the Catalyst, Winter 2016

Canada is a wealthy country. So when there are 4.9 million people living in poverty, something is not working. National data, as outlined in CPJ’s 2016 poverty report, Break the Barriers, tell us an important part of the story.

Poverty rates have not seen significant change in the last several years, which is a problem in itself. However, particular groups remain vulnerable.

Among single-parent families, poverty rates remain high. Women lead almost 80 per cent of these families. This means that single mothers and their children face serious challenges. And poverty among single seniors, the majority of whom are women, is rising.

Women tend to have lower wages and less secure jobs, and they are often responsible for caregiving. This means that single mothers might have to choose between paying for childcare through lower-wage, precarious employment or relying on social assistance. It also means that single women seniors have less in retirement savings. They are often more reliant than men on Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement.

These barriers multiply for particular groups, such as Indigenous people and newcomers. Due to the legacy of colonization, residential schools, and continued discrimination, Indigenous communities have the highest poverty rates in Canada. For example, child poverty is at an unbelievable 76 per cent among on-reserve First Nations in Manitoba.

As well, new immigrants and refugees face multiple barriers to employment. They are vulnerable to persistent poverty due to a lack of recognition of credentials, a lack of Canadian experience, or discrimination. Nationally, 34 per cent of new immigrants and refugees live in poverty. All these groups are highly vulnerable when it comes to health, food security, and adequate housing.

These challenges are complex. But effective and comprehensive policy strategies can make a difference in breaking down these barriers. Right now, there is an opportunity for the federal government to take significant action.

The government has committed to developing a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS) and has begun the process of consultations to inform its development. CPJ has worked hard for this since 2009 through the Dignity for All campaign. It is incredible to think it is close to happening. But, it’s important that it is done well.

And we have a good idea of what it should look like.

Dignity for All released its model anti-poverty plan in 2015. We developed this plan out of consultations with social policy, faith-based, and community organizations as well as people with lived experiences of poverty.

CPJ wants to see the CPRS reflect the consultation process, a human rights framework, and policy recommendations of the Dignity for All model plan. This comprehensive approach recognizes the complex reality of poverty.

The federal government has an opportunity that cannot be wasted. A comprehensive national anti-poverty plan can lead us to poverty eradication in Canada. 4.9 million people are counting on it.

Read CPJ’s report, Break the Barriers: Millions in Canada still struggle to get by.

  • Darlene O'Leary

    Darlene O’Leary has followed the path of social justice for many years, leading her to work in the areas of refugee resettlement and international development, as well as in an academic setting as a researcher, writer, and professor in the fields of theology and ethics. Darlene has a Ph.D. (Theology) from Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Her dissertation focused on ethics and economics in the context of Canadian Catholic social ethics and the work of Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan. She served as the Executive Director of Galilee Centre, an Oblate retreat centre in Arnprior, Ontario, where she managed operations and programs, including a Spirituality and Social Justice Program. Darlene recently completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship with the University of Prince Edward Island, Faculty of Education, which involved research on Inuit Educational Leadership, guided by the inspiring women who have taken part in the UPEI Master of Education (Nunavut) program. Darlene has been an active member of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, serving on the National Council for several years as the PEI representative. Currently, Darlene lives in Ottawa with her husband, Digafie, and their dog, Che.

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