Poverty isn’t just material deprivation – lack of money, lack of housing, lack of food. The Salvation Army’s new Dignity Project underlines the “dehumanizing scourge of poverty and injustice” and has launched a powerful education campaign to let the public know “what it means to live in poverty” and “what they can do to help”. Poverty and income inequality are also linked to poor health and premature death – as the Wellesley Institute’s Bob Gardner has noted. Last December, the Wellesley Institute co-sponsored the Canadian tour of UK epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson on inequality and health. Toronto Public Health’s Unequal City paints a powerful picture of poor income and poor health. More than one-third of respondents to a new national survey commissioned by the Salvation Army said that Canadians living in poverty have it “pretty good”, and an equal number say that there is nothing that can be done about poverty. These responses underline the critical need for campaigns like the Dignity Project – which seek to dispel myths and offer practical solutions.
The Salvation Army survey shows that Canadians believe poverty is the third most important issue facing the country. “The vast majority of Canadians do believe that everyone, despite their socio-economic status, deserves dignity and and most agree that the poor need a helping hand,” notes that Salvation Army. “The bad news is that many still believe that the poor have mostly themselves to blame and that poverty is a choice.”
Nearly half of Canadians, according to the Salvation Army, think that if poor people really wanted to work, they could find a job. While choices can play a role, the Salvation Army notes that there are “significant systemic barriers” that trap people in poverty – not to mention an official unemployment rate of 7.8% and a real unemployment rate that is much higher. The Salvation Army also notes that one-quarter of the people who use its homeless shelters are employed, but don’t earn enough money to afford the high cost of housing.
Many Canadians have an unrealistic expectation of the least amount of money that a family of four requires in Canada. While Canada’s poverty cut-off is nearly $35,00 – fully 55% of the respondents in the Salvation Army survey said that a family of four could live on less than $30,000 (5% said that the family could live on less than $10,000). However, 85% of respondents agreed that it was almost impossible to survive on minimum wage.
Supporters can sign onto the Dignity Project at the on-line manifesto.
The Salvation Army has published a booklet that debunks powerful myths about poverty in Canada.