On February 26, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that the federal government had met its target to reduce poverty in Canada by 20 per cent a full three years early. This was followed by a second announcement that Canada has reached its lowest ever level of poverty.
Between 2015 and 2017, 825,000 Canadians were lifted over the poverty line. Community Food Centres Canada is pleased to see the government’s poverty reduction efforts pay off, and we are looking forward to seeing what we hope will be a similar drop in rates of food insecurity.
The government met its target in large part through its signature social policy of this mandate — the Canada Child Benefit. According to Statistics Canada, this benefit, which targets low- and middle-income parents of children under the age of 18, has pulled 278,000 children out of poverty.
Other federal investments are also increasing incomes and affordability for Canadians. The government increased the benefit for low-income seniors by $947 per year. This year, an enhanced version of the benefit for low-income workers is scheduled to come into effect. Renamed the Canada Workers Benefit, it will boost incomes of low-wage, part-time, and precariously employed Canadians by a $1,355 to $2,335 per year, an increase of $300-$400. Finally, the National Housing Strategy announced last year marks the federal government’s return to investing in affordable housing and will help people on low incomes more easily afford to put a roof over their heads by, for one, providing people in severe housing insecurity with rent subsidies.
The decline in poverty was measured using Canada’s official poverty line, the Market Basket Measure (MBM), which is the cost of a basket of goods and services. The MBM was developed in the late 1990s and includes items such as food, shelter, clothing, and other basic necessities. There MBM is priced out for 50 Canadian communities to reflect the differences in cost of living across the country.
The MBM has some pitfalls though. For example, the allocation for rent does not reflect real rents in a number of Canadian communities -- it allots $1,100 for a 2-bedroom in Vancouver, well below the average of $1,499. There is also no separate allocation for childcare -- instead, it is deducted from disposable income. In most of the country, MBM rates are lower than the other poverty measure, the Low Income Measure, which means we may be underestimating the magnitude of the problem. The federal government has just completed a consultation on the MBM, and we hope to see the real-life experience of Canadians reflected in changes to it.
There is also much more to do to support working-age Canadians living in poverty. While the federal government provides important support for children and seniors, the social safety net is still too weak for 18- to 64-year-olds with no children. As people age, but before they become eligible for seniors’ benefits at the age of 65, their risk of precarity increases -- 45.1 per cent of food bank users, for example, are single adults, despite representing only 28.2 per cent of the population.
Nonetheless, this is an important step forward for Canadians living in poverty and those who struggle to put good food on the table. However, with 3.4 million Canadians still struggling, there is no time to let our guard down. Poverty and food insecurity continue to impose serious physical and mental health risks for too many and diminish us all as a society.
This decrease in poverty is a clear indication that where there is political will and investment, there is movement on important social problems. The federal election coming up this October is an opportunity to set our sights on the government’s next goal — a 50 per cent reduction in poverty by 2030 — and push for interim targets, policies and programs that will help us achieve it.