Larger investment in Canada's poorest needed

October 31, 2002

(OTTAWA) Social policy in Canada should go further to address the needs of Canada's poorest, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, titled Snakes and Ladders: A Policy Brief on Poverty Dynamics.

The report's findings are based on a survey of studies looking at the mobility of people in and out of poverty. These studies provide more insight by tracking the same people over time, rather than taking a cross-section of the population each year.

The survey finds that over longer periods of time many more people will be exposed to poverty than traditional poverty rates suggest.

"About one-quarter of Canadians were poor over a six-year period from 1993 to 1998," says author Marc Lee. "This illustrates the adage of 'there but for the grace of God go I.'"

This highlights the need for strong safety nets to protect people from an economic downturn or plain bad luck, according to the report. Yet, programs like Employment Insurance and Social Assistance have been eroded in the recent era of cutbacks, putting people who fall on hard times in greater jeopardy.

While many people are able to escape from poverty within a few years, there are others who find it difficult to escape, or who escape one year but are poor again the next. In these cases, there is a stronger role for government to invest in people so they can get a decent foothold on the economic ladder.

"Investing in the poorest Canadians through education and training, child care and social housing may cost more in the short-run," says Lee. "But there are immense long-run benefits for society, and the Treasury, to reducing the population of 'chronic poor.'"

Lee urged the government to make these types of investments a priority in the next federal budget