By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – The newly-released 2021 report from the National Advisory Council on Poverty shows a significant decrease in poverty rates, but the report cautions that this is based on data from 2015 – 2019 and thus doesn’t take into account the impacts of COVID-19.
The report notes that the poverty rate decreased from 14.5% in 2015 to 10.1% in 2019, a 30 per cent reduction over four years.
However, “the overall number conceals some of the deep inequities that exist for low-income Canadians,” the report says.
“Certain populations, including Black Canadians, racialized Canadians, immigrants, refugees, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities, and 2SLGBTQ individuals, all face higher rates of poverty.”
Despite COVID’s disproportionate impact on racialized people, from infection rates to job losses and the effects of at-home learning, the pandemic “presents a silver lining.”
“It has demonstrated that many of our systems do not work for everyone,” the report notes.
“It has created a great deal of empathy and an opportunity to do things differently. As we transition from pandemic life, it is essential that we equitably include those who have been the most impacted in recovery efforts.”
The report’s executive summary includes five recommendations.
The first is to promote Indigenous prosperity through all parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement agreement immediately taking steps to implement the relevant Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action and the Government of Canada implementing all the recommendations from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Second, the report recommends the government start collecting data on women and gender equity, Indigenous heritage, immigration/refugee status, race/ethnicity, disability, prior or current institutionalization, and sexual orientation and gender identity, with the overarching goal of using this disaggregated data to reduce poverty by 50 per cent among these groups by 2030 through programs, supports and benefits.
It also recommends various levels of government introduce community feedback mechanisms, specifically from people who have experienced poverty, for various services and policies aimed at poverty reduction, while automatically enrolling those who are eligible into benefit programs.
The report calls on the government to implement all the support systems it has already committed to, including Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care System, Canada Disability Benefit, Canada Workers Benefit and the National Housing Strategy, and to increase investments in existing social programs.
Finally, it asks the federal government to collaborate with its provincial and territorial counterparts to “ensure a coordinated and robust social safety net in Canada by collectively providing income support that is at least at the level of Canada’s Official Poverty Line,” in part by increasing access to employment insurance and paid sick leave for self-employed, part-time and gig workers.
The National Advisory Council on Poverty was created by the federal Liberals in 2019 with the passage of its Poverty Reduction Act, which also enshrined an official poverty line “based on the costs of a typical basket of goods and services that Canadian families use in real life” into law.
Council chair Scott MacAfee, a Government of New Brunswick bureaucrat, pointed out in a news release announcing the report’s release that the COVID crisis has created “great social upheaval.”
“For too long deeply rooted racial, cultural and economic injustice have allowed poverty to persist for far too many. As we move through the ongoing global pandemic, we have an opportunity to choose equity, dignity and justice,” MacAfee said.
Karina Gould, the federal minister of families, children and social development, said in the same release that the report will “help inform” government policy moving forward.
“This report is encouraging, but we know there is more work to do. We will continue to work hard to ensure every Canadian has a real and fair chance at success, and build a stronger, more inclusive Canada for everyone,” Gould said.