September 14, 2012

Let's Include Single Adults in the Next Poverty Reduction Strategy

Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy defines living in deep poverty as anyone who’s income is less than 40% of the median adjusted family income in Canada (as reported by statistics Canada).  One of the main goals of the current poverty reduction strategy, which was implemented in 2008, was to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25% by 2013.  As we reported in an earlier post, the government has made some progress in achieving this target. 

In the coming year, Ontario is required, through the Poverty Reduction Act, to review and update its current poverty reduction strategy.    There are many items to consider when updating the new strategy.  One such measure is the depth of poverty, not only for children, but for adults as well.

As the chart above illustrates, incomes for single adults receiving Ontario Works benefits are almost 50% below the Deep Poverty Measure- they have a $600 shortfall below even reaching the deep poverty line.  Living in Deep Poverty means that one is severely disadvantaged across many different dimensions of life.  Single adults receiving OW report that they cannot afford both healthy food and clean, safe shelter, they cannot afford to purchase a bus pass, even at subsidized rates, and they cannot afford to purchase much of the medication that they might need to live a healthy life.  

Families with children whose parents receive Ontario Works benefits are also well below the deep poverty line, but, because of the Child Tax Benefits, they are closer to being lifted out of deep poverty than single people or couples. 

Despite what we may think, deep poverty affects us all – whether we are wealthy, poor or part of the middle class.  Allowing people to live in deep poverty costs us money-money we could spend on better social programs, better public services, and better education.  Preventing poverty would allow people to address minor illnesses before they become major health concerns that must be addressed through expensive hospitalization and emergency room use.  

Allowing deep poverty to exist in our society also costs us a lot in terms of well-being.  As we've pointed out before, high levels of inequality, such as the difference between median income for a family of four and the income for a family of four receiving Ontario Works benefits or earning minimum wage, have been linked to higher levels of mental illness, increased violence, more teen pregnancy and less trust of one's neighbours.  Continuing on the route to more inequality will mean a decrease in our social well-being.  

Boosting incomes --  through a guaranteed income supplement, an increased Trillium Benefit for all low-income households, a boost to Ontario Works levels or a combination of these -- will help to reduce poverty for all age groups and improve our collective well-being.    The Child Tax Benefits are doing their part for families with low incomes – it’s time to include single adults in our poverty reduction plan.  

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