Poverty is a global issue that affects an individual, their family and community members, it does not discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity or ability. Despite ongoing awareness to the urgency of poverty, all levels of government have failed at implementing or continuing initiatives that could significantly reduce the effects of living in a low socioeconomic status situation within our province and country. This essay will examine what poverty is, how it is measured, and the federal government’s current poverty reduction strategy. As well, assessing the newly appointed provincial governments actions to remove or alter poverty reduction programs that were being utilized by low-income families in Ontario. Poverty cannot be eliminated until every level of government begins to recognize the value in all social classes and viewing the eradication of poverty as true indication of government achievement and success.
According to the Government of Canada, poverty is defined as “The condition of a person who is deprived of the resources, means, choices and power necessary to acquire and maintain in society” (Social Development Canada, 2018). Poverty is usually categorized in two groups: relative or absolute. The majority of those living in poverty fall under the relative classification where a person has some income but not enough to get by, but they are unable to acquire the same standards of living in comparison to others around them. Relative poverty can be a short-term or a transitional situation for some, but for others attempts to improve their socio-economic status are often unsuccessful (2018). It is not uncommon for families to experience persistent poverty that spans generations, typically regarded as residual poverty (Carl & Belanger, 2015). For those that are living with no financial means to secure permanent housing or having access to the necessities of life and are experiencing homelessness are living in absolute poverty (Corrigall-Brown 2016).
According to Statistics Canada, less Canadians were living below the poverty line in 2017 (Statistics Canada, 2019). The following categories were represented in their findings: Those under 18, Canadians 18 to 64, seniors 65 and older and all categories combined. Though each category saw reductions from 0.8% to 2.0%, there were over three million men, women, children and seniors living below the poverty line in Canada in 2017 (Statistics Canada, 2019). Until recently, Canada defined poverty and low income using three measures: Low income cut off (LICO), low income measure (LIM), and the market basket measure (MBM) (Carl & Belanger, 2015). Those classified as low income spent a minimum of 20 percentage points more of their income after tax on food, shelter, and clothing. The low income cut off was not used in the measurement of absolute poverty. The low-income measure (LIM) identifies Canadians as low income if their after-tax income is 50 percent of the median income for other Canadians. Finally, the market basket measure (MBM) concentrates on the costs of various goods and services which represents a basic standard of living such as the size or quality of shelter, food, transportation, and clothing among others. The market basket measure takes into consideration the costs associated in accessing these necessities in various areas in Canada which determines the threshold and adjusts the basket cost accordingly. Low income is then defined when their disposable income falls under the threshold in their location (Statistics Canada, 2019).
In August 2018, the federal government introduced the Poverty Reduction Strategy titled Opportunity for All (Social Development Canada, 2018). It outlines the governments goals to reduce poverty in Canada by 20% by the year 2020, and in 2030 by 50%. The strategy introduces Canada to its first ever poverty line which is based on the market basket measure. Also included in the poverty reduction plan is the National Housing Strategy that aims to reduce chronic homelessness by 50% and reduce the amount in need of housing for 530,000 people over a ten-year period. The government proposes an end to all ongoing water advisories on reserves and implement more funding for Indigenous employment training programs. A collaboration between federal and provincial governments will see new initiatives regarding mental health and its significance in relation to poverty. Other highlights include investments in public transit to improve accessibility, the Canada workers benefit, improved access to early learning programs, affordable child care, and the Canada child benefit (Social Development Canada, 2018). Though this initiative shows some promise, the issue surrounding it is the lack of new spending or introduction of programs (Press, 2018). Unfortunately, without an increase in funding, the goals set out in the strategy will be difficult to achieve.
The current poverty reduction strategy in Ontario was generated by the previous Liberal government (Matthews, 2013); currently the Conservative party has yet to announce their plan of action against poverty. What has happened is a lengthy list of cutbacks and cancellations including but not limited to the discontinuation of free tuition for college and University students, generating feelings of uncertainty for those in low income situations as to whether they can afford to continue to work towards their degrees. As well, January 1, 2019 was slated as the day the minimum wage would be increased to fifteen dollars per hour in Ontario, to assist those living in low income situations, this too was abolished by the current pc government (Loriggio, 2018). Additionally, in 2017 the liberal party introduced the Basic Income Pilot Program (2017). The purpose of the program was to determine if low income earners would be able to meet their basic needs and to see if areas such as housing, food security, education, employment and mental/physical health would improve over a three-year period (2017).
Unfortunately, the Conservative government put a stop to the pilot program despite a campaign promise to allow the continuation of the trial before deciding on whether the benefits outweighed the financial implications. Shortly after taking office, the cancellation was announced before receiving any data to determine the early success of the program, resulting in uncertainty for the participants involved in the project.
Most Canadians can exercise their right to vote in federal, provincial and municipal elections. Candidates put forth their platforms based on the issues that are significant to the people they have chosen to represent, and what is important for one social class will be irrelevant to another. Political candidates, like car salesmen will advertise and promote their platform using any tactic necessary to seal the deal. Candidates display an empathetic ear and understanding to those less fortunate in society that live day to day in dire situations. Most candidates, however, are fortunate enough to have no lived experience in poverty and therefore cannot genuinely appreciate the ongoing challenges the people confront to merely survive. It is disheartening to say the least when an elected candidate takes advantage of their position for their personal agenda that will only benefit those in higher social classes, especially since classes share economic interests (Grabb, 2007). Max Weber discussed power as the ability to get their own way whether others resist (Grabb, 2007), unfortunately, this is the current situation in Ontario.
Most can agree that the deficit in Ontario is at a critical point and cost reducing measures are necessary for the province to thrive once again. What is difficult to comprehend is the logic behind targeting groups such as low-income families, special needs children, students and those with disabilities in their mission to reduce spending. The Ontario budget will be reveled on April 11, 2019 (Ministry of Finance, 2019), this comes with a high degree of uncertainty for those of us that have previously been targeted by this government, and already have little confidence that this government will implement a strategy that will positively impact those in low socioeconomic status situations. In a perfect world, everybody would have equal opportunity, and nobody would be left behind. Everyone would be viewed on their strengths, abilities and kindness rather than their class and circumstance. Governments would work together and recognize the initial expense to reduce poverty would be an investment that would generate a substantial return. If those less fortunate had the opportunity to receive free education to better their situation, the majority would. An educated society is one that stimulates job growth, in return job growth motivates spending, and a country that is spending is one that does not have deficit crisis. We are all in this country together and it is time for all levels of government to realize that more money invested into the people regardless of their socioeconomic status will yield a larger return that you cannot put a price on.
In 2005, Nelson Mandela attended the Make Poverty History rally in , throughout his speech, Mandela discussed the global issue of poverty and from that came many poignant remarks (Guy-Allen, 2018). “While poverty persists, there is no true freedom”. (Guy-Allen, 2018), and “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest” (Guy-Allen, 2018).
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