As Canadians we boast about our easy access to a variety of material resources, services and activities that enhance our lives and generate a sense of well-being and happiness. Such resources include the necessities of life such as food and shelter, but also include other things, such as quality health services, and the ability to feel connected to communities through newspapers, cell phones, and participation in cultural activities or events.
But to what extent are such services and activities accessible to all Canadians? The answer may come as a surprise. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released a report earlier today by Steve Kerstetter on income inequality in Canada. According to the report, entitled The Affordability Gap: Spending Differences between Canada’s Rich and Poor, the poorest 20% of Canadian households do not have access to the resources that many Canadians consider to be essential.
In terms of health services, we as Canadians proudly claim the benefits of universal healthcare as a characteristic of Canadian citizenship and essential for our well-being. But such universalism does not include many areas of care, such as prescription medications, dental care, and eye glasses. These are just a few examples of the “luxuries” identified by the CCPA that the poorest families in Canada cannot afford.
In addition to health services, social inclusion is an important element of well-being and happiness. This can be as simple as being connected to communities, friends and families. Many of the poorest 20% of Canadian families cannot afford access to high speed Internet, or even a home computer. Cell phones are often out of reach, and even newspapers are sometimes too much of a luxury item.
Social inclusion also takes into account the ability to participate in community and cultural activities or events. For example, the CCPA states that Canadians within the poorest 20% very rarely, if ever, can afford movie tickets, eating out in restaurants, buying sports equipment for their children, and attending musical or cultural performances.
Well-being is more than being able to afford the absolute necessities of life, including food and shelter. It is about happiness and contentment, in being able to enjoy life within a community. It is also about accessing the resources and community activities available within our society.
When part of the population is able to enjoy the “luxury” of eye glasses, the ability to stay informed about their communities through the Internet and local newspapers, and the chance to kick back on a Friday night in a movie theatre; while others are excluded within the same communities, there is a serious imbalance and lack of well-being within society as a whole.
As the gap between the rich and the poor within Canada continues to increase, more and more services, resources and activities extend out of the reach of the poorest Canadian families and social exclusion continues to erode the well-being of Canadians as a whole.
Along with the CCPA, CPJ recognizes the need for policy changes to address this widening gap. Effective social assistance and income security programs and policies are essential so that all Canadians can feel included and enjoy a variety of the materials resources, services and activities offered in our communities.