Poverty rates dropping but true picture of poverty in Canada remains fuzzy

Poverty statistics don't tell the whole story say advocates. (Stock photo by Iakov Filimonov, rf123.com)

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – The federal government is touting recent statistics that indicate that the poverty rate in Canada is on a downward spiral, but social justice and anti-poverty groups say the statistics don’t tell the whole story and there is still a lot of work to be done if Canada going to reduce poverty levels for Indigenous Canadians and those who live in remote areas of the country.

According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s poverty rate has dropped dramatically in recent years, but there are still more than 566,000 children who live below the poverty line in Canada, although that is down from about one million children from five years ago.

According to statistics released on Feb. 24, 2020, the overall national poverty rate dropped to 8.7 per cent in 2018 compared to 9.5 per cent in 2017. The number of those living below the poverty line is about 3.2 million in total.

One of the reasons cited for the drop in the number of children living below the poverty line is the federal Liberal government’s child benefits programs.

“The Government of Canada is committed to growing the middle class and helping those working hard to join it. The results of the 2018 Canadian Income Survey are further proof that our plan is working,” said Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen.

“However, we know there is much more to do. That is why we will keep working hard to reduce poverty and make sure that every Canadian has a real and fair chance to succeed,” Hussen said.

But while the federal government says the statistics show that its Opportunity for All – Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy, which targets a 50-per-cent reduction by 2030 compared to 2015 levels, is working, Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a faith-based social justice group, said more changes need to be undertaken in the way poverty is measured in Canada for a better snapshot of what is actually happening on the ground.

“Statistics Canada is to be commended on the process and results of their most recent review of the Market Basket Measure (MBM), Canada’s Official Poverty Line,” according to a statement from CPJ.

“Unfortunately, through no fault of Statistics Canada, the MBM still falls short of being an adequate or appropriate official measure of poverty for Canada. The most glaring shortcoming of the MBM is that these measures are unavailable for people living on reserves, in the territories, or in remote communities where people experience disproportionately high rates of low income, food insecurity, and core housing need,” the CPJ said.

Statistics Canada is in the process of reviewing changes to the way it calculates the MBM, and concedes that the number of those living in poverty would be higher under one MBM change scenario it has reviewed.

Statistics Canada said that under a proposed new way of measuring poverty, the number of people living in poverty in Canada would go up to about four million rather than the 3.2 million cited in the statistics released last month.

“We welcome the changes proposed to the MBM,” said Natalie Appleyard, the socio-economic policy analyst at CPJ.

“But we cannot fathom how a measure that excludes the territories, people living on reserve, and people living in remote communities could possibly merit selection as Canada’s Official Poverty Line. The MBM may very well be a useful measure to track, but it is certainly not the most representative available to us,” she said.