featured Poverty

News brief: Canada’s proposed measure of poverty is deeply flawed

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When the cupboards are bare and the rent is due and it is still a week until you get paid, those are telltale signs that you’re poor.

But if you want to measure how well one province is tackling poverty relative to other provinces, or general progress from year to year, you need something a bit more scientific.

Many poverty advocates think there is lots wrong with a new definition of poverty that the federal government wants to entrench in legislation as part of its recently announced anti-poverty strategy.

Canada’s Official Poverty Line would be based on the Market Basket Measure (MBM), the cost of a basket of goods and services that individuals and families require to meet their basic needs and achieve a modest standard of living in communities across the country.

MBM is what is called an absolute way to measure poverty. This is how much it costs to pay for food and shelter in a specific community, and people are considered to live in poverty if they can’t afford to fill the basket.

It’s hard to care about this stuff, but it is very important. How you precisely define poverty may well determine whether you are eligible for support programs, food banks, energy rebates, etc. It may even determine whether you qualify for social assistance as is the case in Quebec.

Some of the estimates the MBM uses are too low, such as the estimated cost for shelter, critics charge.

Mostly the criticism focuses what goes into the MBM basket, and what’s left out.

“Some vital daily costs …  like child care or prescription medication, are designated as “out of pocket” expenses, not basic needs. While these are costs that many families in Canada consider indispensable, the MBM does not treat them as such,” writes Michèle Biss, who works for Canada Without Poverty.

Student and other debts you carry also are not considered, Bliss writes.

Statistics Canada is asking for input on the proposed poverty measure. You can find their survey here.

Dignity for All, a coalition of Canadian anti-poverty groups, has put together a tool that is helpful if you want to respond to the Stats Can questions.

The deadline of January 31 is coming up fast.


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