October 17 Event Successful: Comprehensive Strategy Needed

This is the fifth in a series highlighting CPJ’s recommendations for the 2013 federal budget in Promoting the Common Good. In part four, we looked at how addressing inequality is important in achieving equitable, sustainable progress. This week we share what happened on October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and our recommendation that Canada establish a national multilateral poverty elimination strategy.

“If poverty was a disease, we’d be pouring money into it. And it is: people are dying from it in this country.” This was how Linda Lalonde, a community advocate and someone who has experienced poverty first-hand, called for action against poverty in Canada on October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The day began with three leaders of the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus, NDP MP Chris Charlton, Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, and Conservative Senator Don Meredith, gathering on Parliament Hill, alongside Leilani Farha, Executive Director of Canada Without Poverty, and CPJ Executive Director Joe Gunn. At a joint press conference, all agreed with Senator Eggleton that “the time to act is now,” and spoke to the value of cross-party collaboration. Joe Gunn emphasized that ending poverty requires a multi-pronged strategy, and that creating jobs is not the only solution.

That evening, Linda Lalonde was one of seven speakers at a much larger evening forum, attended by over 80 people from a wide cross-section of the community. “Ending Poverty Together: Real Stories, Real Solutions” also featured Indigenous rights activist Geraldine King (who, like Linda, has lived in poverty), the same members of the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus (APC) who had been at the press conference, Leilani Farha, and Katherine Scott, writer of CPJ’s new Poverty Trends Scorecard – Canada 2012.

The Scorecard uses the latest data released this summer by Statistics Canada, comparing this info to what was happening during the 2008–2009 recession and as far back as 1981. The full text has been posted online. We’re looking forward to using the Scorecard at ongoing events, meetings with decision-makers, and analysis, and making it available to government leaders, the media, and others involved in the fight against poverty.

Some of the key findings:

  • One in ten people continue to live in poverty. There has been very little change in the overall poverty rate since 1981, in spite of all the promises made by various governments.
  • Poverty has been decreasing steadily among Canada’s seniors. Yet seniors remain very vulnerable to any change in income or the cost of living. Proposed changes to the age of retirement. One policy that CPJ has vigourously critiqued has been increasing the age when people can access OAS/GIS support from 65 to 67: this will delay seniors benefits to the low-income individuals who desperately need these supports, pushing thousands into poverty.
  • Working-age individuals living on their own are “Canada’s forgotten poor.” This group has increased from one third to one half of all people living in poverty. This is also the group whose government supports have been cut back the most since the 1990s.
  • Off-reserve Aboriginal people have seen their poverty rate increase to one in six since the recession, rather than decrease like many other groups.
  • Over half the people living in poverty in Canada live in a home where one person is working, and twelve percent in a home where two or more are working. This belies the myth that work is a guaranteed way out of the poverty trap.

These findings, with others in the Scorecard, support CPJ’s fifth recommendation to the federal Finance Committee: that it, in consultation with Aboriginal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, develop a comprehensive, multilateral poverty elimination strategy. A strategy that addresses key areas such as housing, food insecurity, early childhood development, education, income inequality, and social exclusion would go a long way in improving the well-being, health outcomes, and productivity of low income people and help to build a more vibrant, healthy, and caring society.

Such a strategy, along with the others in Promoting the Common Good, the recommendations CPJ made to the Finance Committee, would go a long way to what was called for on October 17: moving from ideas and meetings to action resulting in real change.