IN FROM THE MARGINS: A CALL TO ACTION TO END POVERTY IN CANADA
Our cities are integral to the prosperity of Canada. They are the economic engines, the cultural linchpins, and are also the intersection point for many national, regional and local issues. This vital place that cities hold in the health and vibrancy of Canada is why the Senate Subcommittee on Cities (which I chair) decided to study the current state of poverty, housing and homelessness in Canadian cities.
Through a myriad of expert witnesses, site visits, roundtables and most importantly, testimony from those living in poverty and homelessness, we are saddened to report that far too many Canadians living in cities live below any measure of the poverty line; that too many people struggle to find and maintain affordable housing; and that an increasing number of Canadians are homeless. And despite the thoughtful efforts and many promising practices of governments’, the private sector, and community organizations, that are helping many Canadians, the system that is intended to lift people out of poverty is substantially broken, often entraps people in poverty, and needs an overhaul.
Also, the Committee’s testimony clearly underlines that poverty costs us all. Poverty expands healthcare costs, policing burdens and diminished educational outcomes. This in turn depresses productivity, labour force flexibility, life spans and economic expansion and social progress, all of which takes place at huge cost to taxpayers, federal and provincial treasuries and the robust potential of the Canadian consumer economy.
This unacceptable situation has led the Committee to offer some essential, broad and incremental recommendations that go beyond the “path dependency” paralysis that has typified federal and provincial policy under governments of all affiliations for decades.
We believe that the federal government should develop and implement a basic income guarantee at or above the poverty line for people with severe disabilities. This income guarantee would mean, as one of the witness before our Committee stated, “full citizenship for Canadians who face tremendous barriers and obstacles.”
On Employment Insurance - EI - we welcome the recent extension of benefits to those with long employment and short EI periods. But these changes do not address longer term weaknesses and inequities in the program, particularly with training access.
We recommend a new program to insure against income losses due to long-term employment interruption, covering those that are not presently covered under the EI Act, including self-employed, part-time workers, those who have been unemployed for an extended period, recent immigrants, and the underemployed.
On training - success in today’s fast-moving job market depends on having the right skills. And study after study confirms that children who arrive at school ready to learn become adults prepared to succeed. Our recommendation, therefore, is a nation-wide, federal-provincial initiative on early childhood learning and support for initiatives that keep disadvantaged young people in school.
We also looked at the income transfers that take place through the tax system. We’ve seen examples of tax credits that work. The National Child Benefit Supplement is putting money into the hands of low-income individuals and households. But, as a critical step to eradicating child poverty, we propose increasing the National Child Benefit to $5,000 by 2012.
The Working Income Tax Benefit, which supplements earnings for those with very low incomes, is another tax measure that holds promise by “making work pay” . We recommend increasing this benefit so that no recipient would fall below the poverty line.
We must also do a better job of integrating our approach to housing and homelessness. Far too many Canadians are without affordable housing and we have seen dramatic increases in homelessness in some Canadian cities. It is time for the federal and provincial governments to come to grips with this issue and develop a national housing and homelessness strategy.
We believe that eradicating poverty and homelessness is not only the humane and decent priority of a civilized democracy, but absolutely essential to a productive and expanding economy benefitting from the strengths and abilities of all its people.
To read the report go to: