The National Council on Welfare (an advisory council to the federal government) has released Welfare Incomes 2005 today (August 24) and the numbers show that poverty continues to be a critical social policy concern for Canada.
Here are some snapshots from the report (mostly using Ontario numbers, because that is where the Wellesley Institute is based, but the NCW report gives data for all the provinces):
The welfare income for a single employable person in Ontario is $7,007 – that’s just one-third of the poverty line. Others, including a couple with two children or a single parent with one child, are only managing marginally better – they are able to creep up to about half the poverty line. The “best” results are for a person with a disability. Their welfare income in 2005 was $12,057 – which is 58% of the poverty line.
The verdict: Welfare incomes trap poor people in deep poverty.
Welfare incomes over time tell an equally troubling story. Comparing total welfare incomes (in constant 2005 dollars) over the past 18 years shows that in every single category, the incomes are down in real terms – even though inflation, rents and other costs have risen dramatically over those years. For instance, a single employable person has seen their welfare income drop from $8,360 to $7,007 over the past 18 years (since the NCW starting tracking welfare incomes). A couple with two children has seen their income drop from $22,102 to $19,302 over the same time.
The verdict: People forced to live on welfare incomes have less dollars to deal with increased costs for food, shelter, energy, clothing, transportation and other necessities.
Not surprisingly, the NCW figures show that welfare incomes as a percentage of the poverty line are way down over the past 18 years. In Ontario, there was a slight uptick in the early 1990s, but the downward trend set in with a vengeance with the welfare cuts of 1995 and have continued since then.
The verdict: Peopleon welfare incomes (among the poorest in our communities) are being forced into an even worse position as their incomes fall relative to the poverty line.
Here are a pair of quotes from the conclusion to the welfare report:
“Welfare incomes have never been close to adequate anywhere in Canada. But the 1.7 million people”half a million of whom are children”who are forced to rely on welfare are being left farther and farther behind.”
“The National Council of Welfare proposes a long-term, comprehensive anti-poverty strategy to address the causes of poverty, explore innovative solutions and engageCanadians living in poverty in the process. The evidence presented in Welfare Incomes 2005 argues compellingly that we must embark on this process without delay to give hope and real options to people living in poverty.”
The NCW call for a national anti-poverty strategy echoes the call from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which released itsperiodic review of Canada’s compliance with its international humanrights obligations in May of 2006. Here are two of the many important recommendations from the United Nations:
“52. The Committee recommends that the State party undertake a detailed assessment of the impact of the reduction of federal transfers for social assistance and social services to Provinces and Territories, on the standard of living of people depending on social welfare, in particular women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, Aboriginal people, African-Canadians and members of other minorities. The Committee strongly recommends that the State party reconsider all retrogressive measures adopted in 1995.”
“53. The Committee urges the State party to establish social assistance at levels which ensure the realization of an adequate standard of living for all.”
– Michael Shapcott