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Advocacy & Issues 05/19/2023

Anthony Musiwa is the Senior Policy Advisor at Community Food Centres Canada, and here he provides an analysis of the numbers and information coming from the recently released Statistics Canada Canadian Income Survey report. 

Statistics Canada released its long-awaited 2021 Canadian Income Survey (CIS) report and confirmed our worst fears: poverty and food insecurity have skyrocketed across Canada.1

According to StatCan, in 2021, one in 14 (7 per cent or 2.8 million) people in Canada lived below the official poverty line, up one percentage point since 2020. 

Furthermore, one in five people (18 per cent or 6.9 million) were food insecure, which is up 2.7 per cent from 2020. 

While one or two percentage points may seem slight, they are significant increases to the already high poverty and food insecurity rates in Canada. 

This is a stark reminder that the federal government must step up to implement robust income support policies to ensure Canadians can meet their basic needs, including being able to afford nourishing food.

Who is most affected by poverty and food insecurity?

While the new Canadian Income Survey data paints a bleak picture for Canada overall, it also shows that some groups are disproportionately impacted by poverty and food insecurity:

  • Single working-age adults: Poverty among single working-age adults  (aged 18-64 years) is more than five times higher than among adults in families (22 per cent vs. 4 per cent, respectively).
    • One in four (24 per cent) of single working-age adults experience food insecurity, compared to one in five (20 per cent) people in families.
  • Lone-parent families: Poverty among female lone-parent families is more than four times higher than among two-parent families (18 per cent vs. 4 per cent, respectively). 
    • Food insecurity among persons in lone-parent families (43 per cent) is twice as high as in two-parent families with children (21 per cent).
  • Indigenous peoples: Poverty among Indigenous peoples is twice as high as non-Indigenous peoples (14 per cent vs. 7 per cent, respectively).
    • One in three (31 per cent) off-reserve Indigenous peoples experience food insecurity compared to one in six (17 per cent) of non-Indigenous peoples.
  • Racialized people: One in 10 (10 per cent) racialized people live below the poverty line compared to one in 14 non-racialized people.
    • One in four (25 per cent) racialized persons experience food insecurity compared to one in six (16 per cent) of non-racialized people.

Connecting the dots: why is poverty increasing?

The main underlying driver of poverty across Canada is, and has always been, inadequate household income.

Before the pandemic, after-tax incomes were rising while poverty and food insecurity rates fell. This was a promising step forward around poverty reduction in Canada. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, wreaking widespread havoc on incomes, jobs and economic stability. 

When the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and, later, the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), were introduced as pandemic responses, the poverty rate again decreased dramatically from 10 per cent in 2019 to 6 per cent in 2020. This significant decrease helped the federal government hit its poverty reduction target ten years early. Yet, despite the reduction in poverty, household food insecurity remained unchanged.2

Once CERB and CRB were phased out in 2021, after-tax incomes again decreased. Meanwhile, the poverty rate increased to 7 per cent from 6 per cent in 2020, as did household food insecurity, which rose to 18 per cent from 16 per cent in 2020. These fluctuations in income and poverty rates speak to how benefits such as CERB and CRB can provide people with stable income support.

With the pandemic slowly easing, inflation has become the new challenge. Inflation has increased consistently since 2018 while wages have not risen accordingly. The cost of living went up by a massive 3.4 per cent in 2021.

Put simply, Canadians are expected to get by with the same amount of income while the cost of everything, including food, increases tremendously. And, without government support, Canadians living on lower incomes feel the biggest impacts.

What must Canada do to address poverty and food insecurity?

The existing research in Canada and internationally is clear: policies that increase incomes and purchasing power are the most effective in terms of reducing poverty and food insecurity. 

To be effective, these policies must target the most impacted groups, including single working-age adults, lone-parent families, and Indigenous and racialized peoples. 

That’s why we call upon the federal government to provide more supports for people living below the poverty line. The time to step up these efforts is now.

One actionable policy that we recommend is for the federal government to transform the Canada Workers Benefit into a Canada Working-Age Supplement (CWAS) — a non-refundable tax credit that will provide targeted income support to all single adults regardless of employment status. If implemented, this will support at least 3.1 million single adults and reduce deep poverty by between 9 and 39 per cent, depending on the province. 

The CWAS is based on robust modeling that considers the everyday realities around poverty and food insecurity that single adults in Canada face. Join us in calling upon the federal government to seriously consider this policy initiative.

To read more about CWAS, check out our joint report with Maytree.

1.  We refer to the data presented in this blog as “2021 data”. However, the data cover a reference period from June 2021 to May 2022 and were collected between January 2022 and June 2022.
2.  This is because Canada’s official poverty measure does not capture the full complexity of poverty because of the way it is calculated. So indicators such as food insecurity — which remain consistently high — provide an important barometer of the true effects of living on a low income in Canada.


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