Busting Myths About Poverty in Canada

MYTH

Poverty is about bad personal choices.

FACT

Poverty is a complex and multifaceted reality. It is rooted in systemic barriers, structural injustice, inequity, and social exclusion. People living in poverty often experience discrimination based on gender, racialization, disability, and other forms of exclusion that prevent full engagement in society. In addition, a weakened social policy foundation leads to rights violations, including a lack of access to safe, affordable housing, healthcare, education, secure employment, healthy food, adequate childcare, and income supports. Indigenous peoples in Canada experience high rates of poverty as part of the enduring and continued legacy of colonization, forced relocation and residential schools, and ongoing racism and intergenerational trauma. People who experience multiple barriers, such as racialized women who are single parents, racialized persons with disabilities, etc. are particularly vulnerable to deep poverty.

MYTH

Poverty is not a real problem in Canada.

FACT

Recent data show that between 3.4 million people or 9.5% of the population (according to the Market Basket Measure, 2017) and 4.6 million people or 12.7% of the population (according to the Low-Income Measure, after tax, 2017) live in poverty in Canada. Though recently declining, child poverty in Canada is still persistent (9% MBM/12.1 % LIM-AT 2017), almost 30 years after the 1989 unanimously supported Parliamentary motion to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. This is particularly concerning in Indigenous and racialized communities, that experience higher poverty rates, and which may not be accessing the Canada Child Benefit and other social programs.

foodiesfeed.com_fresh-carrots-at-farmers-market

MYTH

The best solution to poverty is a job.

FACT

Many people living in poverty are employed. The problem is that the jobs are precarious – they are inadequately waged and are lacking in benefits and security. Many people end up working multiple low-wage jobs that still do not cover essential costs. Others have to choose between precarious work and inadequate social assistance if they cannot find affordable childcare, housing or transit. Still others have challenges finding work that is accessible, which is a barrier to persons with disabilities. In addition, systemic barriers and discrimination mean that some are excluded from employment or cannot work in their fields.

MYTH

People living in poverty already get enough support.

FACT

A broad suite of social programs is essential to support those living in poverty. This includes income security, affordable and safe housing, access to healthcare, secure employment, food security, and affordable, high quality childcare. There have been some improvements recently with the launch of the federal poverty reduction strategy (PRS) and the national housing strategy (both recently legislated). In addition, programs like the fully indexed Canada Child Benefit, the updated Canada Workers Benefit, etc. are having an impact. However, more coordination with all levels of government, including Indigenous governments and communities, is essential to ensure that programs are adequate and responsive to immediate needs. Many regions of Canada are experiencing a housing crisis. Indigenous communities continue to face multiple crises involving access to safe housing, water, education, childcare, healthcare, jobs, etc. And social assistance and disability assistance rates across the country are shamefully inadequate.

MYTH

A charity response is sufficient to address poverty.

FACT

Charitable efforts to support people living in poverty are often very important to meeting immediate needs and also to creating a sense of community and belonging. However, charities are often not able to address the systemic roots of poverty, though many are engaged in advocacy to promote strong social policy. Food bank use has been rising in Canada since 2008, and many cannot continue to operate with increased demand. Food banks do not solve food insecurity, just as shelters do not solve homelessness. A comprehensive approach is needed to address the complexity of poverty.

6-Key Recommendations

MYTH

Poverty is too complicated to eradicate, and any effort would cost too much.

FACT

Poverty is complicated, but a comprehensive strategy that involves all levels of government, including Indigenous governments and communities can lead to its eradication. The Dignity for All campaign spent years consulting with anti-poverty, policy, and faith-based groups, as well as academics to develop a model national anti-poverty plan for Canada. The current federal poverty reduction strategy (PRS) requires additional programs, funding, more ambitious targets and timelines, and data analysis to be effective. However, it is now legislated and soon an advisory council will be in place to monitor its progress. As for the cost, poverty already costs Canada billions of dollars, due to increased healthcare needs, social breakdown costs, as well as the costs of a fragmented and inadequate policy responses. A comprehensive, adequately funded strategy can have social and economic benefits.

MYTH

Poverty does not affect me.

FACT

Everyone is affected by poverty. Millions of people in Canada struggle day after day to get by, and this has broad social, cultural, and economic ramifications. However, the important point is that every person has dignity, and our social policy must reflect this. We have a moral obligation to ensure that our society includes everyone and that no one is left to suffer on their own. We all have a role to play in ending poverty in Canada.

Hold federal leaders accountable to end poverty in Canada.

For the first time ever, Canada has a legislated national anti-poverty strategy.

As the federal election approaches, it’s more important than ever for the electorate to hold leaders to account to commit to ending poverty.

Countdown to the federal election:

Day
Hour
Minute
Second