A new way to overstate poverty

NationalPost.com – Opinions/Editorial – A new way to overstate poverty
National Post  Published: Friday, December 04, 2009

When most Canadians think of “the poor,” they imagine people without adequate food, clothing and shelter. These are known as the “absolute poor.” But when welfare and homeless advocates mention the poor, they typically mean the relative poor — people who may have all of life’s basics, but not as many of the extras as their neighbours.

The Edmonton Social Planning Council, for instance, once suggested Alberta social services pay for colour televisions, cable, and music lessons, because children growing up in households without such luxuries would feel excluded from the social mainstream.

The latest of these attempts to pad the number of poor in order to justify higher taxes and more social spending comes from the Ontario provincial government with the release Wednesday of the first annual report on its poverty-reduction strategy.

The McGuinty government has chosen to use a measure of relative poverty known as a “deprivation index,” popular in England, Scotland, New Zealand and elsewhere. Any Ontarian unable to eat fresh fruit and vegetables daily, or meat, fish or “a vegetarian equivalent” every second day is considered poor.

If you have enough clothes, but few suitable for a job interview, if you lack a car to get to work or have trouble finding a bus, you are deprived. Can you support a hobby for yourself and small yearly gifts for family? If not –again– you are deprived.

There is nothing pleasant about being unable to afford such small comforts, but no matter how deprived such inadequacies make one feel, they do not make one poor.

We have long argued that Statistics Canada’s Low-Income Cut Off (LICO)–a commonly cited measurement of poverty in Canada — was a useless, relativist index. But we think Ontario’s deprivation index is even worse.

No doubt, however, the bureaucrats like it just fine — for it justifies the case for more government intervention in the economy. In fact, the new inflated index shows 12.5% of Ontario children are poor, versus just 11.7% claimed under LICO.

If such claims fly, Ontario’s taxpayers should ready themselves for another assault on their wallets.

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