Statistics Canada recently released an updated series of indicators that show the number of people in Canada living on low income. The results overall show that, in regards to child poverty, provinces that had implemented poverty reduction strategies with targets and timelines appear to have made a substantial impact in reducing child poverty from 2006 to 2011.
Poverty reduction strategies are typically coordinated efforts to reduce poverty and are accompanied by specific investments. These investments might include new subsidies delivered to low income families, or new programs geared towards getting people jobs or increased access to services. If there are strong targets that accompany the strategy, it may mean greater effort will be made to successfully meet those targets. It also provides a strong measure of accountability. For instance, back in 2008 the Ontario government set the ambitious target of aiming to reduce child poverty by 25 percent in 5 years.
The Low Income Measure (LIM) and the Market Basket Measure (MBM) are two key indicators to measure low income in Canada. The LIM is a “relative” measure of low income, and assesses how many households are living with an income that is less than half of what the average household is earning. This measure is important as it gives us an indication of how a population is faring relative to others in their community. The MBM is more of an “absolute” measure in that it consists of a fixed “basket” of goods and services (including the cost of a nutritious food basket, shelter costs for the region, and clothing). Households that cannot afford the basic items on the measure are considered to be living with low income. This measure is also important because it assesses what people can actually afford. Both relative and absolute measures are important to give us a full picture of low income in Canada.
Rate of child poverty by province from 2006 to 2011, using the LIM and the MBM
Using the both the Low Income Measure (LIM) and the Market Basket Measure (MBM) as indicators, three provinces in Canada ( Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario) showed an overall reduction in poverty for children 18 and under from 2006 to 2011. Newfoundland implemented its poverty reduction strategy in 2006, and both New Brunswick and Ontario implemented theirs in 2008. All three had set firm targets and timelines to accompany these strategies. All three provinces, incidentally, also saw a consistent reduction in child poverty from 2009 to 2011, a period of time that would be most likely to show an increase after the economic recession of 2008.
The three other provinces with a poverty reduction strategy under way (Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Manitoba) saw an increase in child poverty during this time period. Nova Scotia and Manitoba implemented their poverty reduction strategies in 2009, but have been critiqued that their strategies lacked timelines and targets to monitor their progress. Quebec, which was the first province in Canada to implement a poverty reduction strategy back in 2004, saw long-term incremental reductions in their rate of child poverty. They continue to have one of the lowest rates of child poverty in the country, and will require continued vigilance to stay there.
P.E.I and Alberta are both in the process of implementing their poverty reduction strategies, but had not yet begun as of 2011. Both provinces saw an increase in child poverty during this period, although Alberta still has the lowest rate of child poverty in the country using both measures as indicators, mainly due to local economic development from natural resources.
B.C. and Saskatchewan have not yet implemented poverty reduction strategies. Saskatchewan however is an anomaly, and saw the biggest overall drop in child poverty. Similar to Alberta, Saskatchewan has enjoyed the benefit of local economic development due to its access to natural resources. To its credit Saskatchewan also has a housing benefit available for households with low income, whether they are receiving from social assistance or employment – the only benefit of its kind in the country. British Columbia’s rate of child poverty increased only slightly during this period, but unfortunately has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country.
Provinces that made wise investments which improved the incomes of low income people is what lifted people out of poverty. A poverty reduction strategy, with strong targets helps provide the focus for those investments to be made.