Social programs are in public interest

  • October 5, 2011

TORONTO - Investing in social programs that tackle poverty makes “economic sense,” according to a new report by a federal advisory group on poverty.

“It is in the public interest for all governments in Canada’s federation to invest in preventing poverty and improving economic and social well-being,” said the National Council of Welfare in its report “The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty.”

According to the report, released in late September, the cost of poverty in 2007 was estimated at more than double the $12.6 billion “poverty gap” — the amount it would have cost to ensure that all Canadians had an income above the poverty line. In 2009, more than three million Canadians were living in poverty and the national poverty rate was 9.6 per cent.

The council said the direct impacts of poverty are “driving up costs” for governments across Canada.

“They show up in the health care system, policing and in the need for a wide range of services from food banks to homeless shelters. There are also high costs that result when people in poverty can’t be very productive,” it said.

“Whether their income comes from employment, benefits for children and seniors or other income supports, people living in poverty don’t have enough to meet their needs. That reality has consequences.” 

High-cost responses are driving up the costs of poverty, said the report. In Calgary, for instance, the yearly cost of emergency shelters can run up to $42,000 per person. But great savings could be found with supportive housing, where residents can get the services they need from $13,000 to $18,000 per person, it said.

In the long run, poverty results in “losing out on a great deal of talent and potential.” For instance, an impoverished child “may hinder their learning and employment later in life.”

“Billions of dollars of personal income and tax revenues would be added to our economy if adults facing a high risk of poverty, such as immigrants, aboriginal people and lone parents, had the same likelihood of employment and the same average income as other Canadians,” the report suggested.

The council is recommending several steps to address poverty such as a nationwide strategy for solving poverty. It also recommends a sustained investment plan that removes barriers and creates opportunities for low-income families.

Michael Yeshe-Skajin, executive director of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, agrees with the report but adds that the issue goes beyond economics. It is also a matter of “human dignity.”

“The persistence of poverty in our country is an ethical and moral dilemma that must be addressed.” 

“Faith and community organizations have been helping people survive but the recent report ... reiterates ISARC’s call for the government to act so that people have dignity and are able to provide the social determinants of health for themselves and their families.”

ISARC in September launched its own poverty-reduction campaign prior to the Ontario election on Oct. 6.

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