Report finds poverty myths rampant

Canada.com – business
March 1, 2011.    By Shannon Proudfoot, Postmedia News

More than half of Canadians think a family of four can get by on $30,000 a year or less, while a similar number believe that if poor people really want to work, “they can always find a job.”

A new Salvation Army report exploring attitudes on poverty in Canada suggests many people believe the poor are “part of the problem” and their decisions led them to poverty, even while most also agree that everyone deserves basic dignity and a helping hand.

“I don’t think Canadians are mean-spirited. I don’t think they are not compassionate,” says Andrew Burditt, spokesman for the Salvation Army in Canada. “Sometimes those of us who don’t have problems are far enough removed from the struggles of everyday life that it’s too easy for us to say, ‘Just get a job.’ ”

Among the findings of the report, released Tuesday to coincide with the launch of the organization’s new campaign, is that 43 per cent of Canadians agree that “a good work ethic is all you need to escape poverty,” while 41 per cent believe the poor would “take advantage” of any assistance given to them and “do nothing.”

Nearly one-quarter of Canadians (23 per cent) say poor people are in that position because they’re lazy, while 28 per cent say the poor have “lower moral values.”

About one in 11 people in Canada live in poverty, the Salvation Army says, and that figure has remained largely unchanged over the last decade.

“It’s not a case of people being lazy,” says Burditt. “It’s a case of not enough income, lack of access to the training required to get a new job, lack of affordable housing.”

More than half (54 per cent) of Canadians believe a family of four can survive on $30,000 a year or less — including 21 per cent who think $20,000 is enough.

Statistics Canada’s low-income cutoff averages $34,289 for urban communities and $22,783 in rural areas.

Statistics Canada figures show that the average family of four with two working parents brings home $84,800 annually, and the Salvation Army says it’s “extremely difficult” for a family to live on less than $40,000 in an urban area.

At the same time, the report shows 89 per cent of Canadians agree that people in poverty deserve a helping hand and 81 per cent say helping poor families sets up their children for success. Almost all (96 per cent) agree that everyone deserves a sense of dignity, though just 65 per cent believe being poor robs people of their dignity.

“It’s not a lack of compassion. It’s people that don’t understand that those everyday things that you and I take for granted really do contribute to a sense of self-respect, a sense of self-worth,” says Burditt.

The report was released to coincide with the launch of the Salvation Army’s Dignity Project campaign, which aims to educate the public about the reality of poverty and its “dehumanizing” effects.

Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted the poll in late January, with 1,025 Canadians included. The results carry a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

sproudfoot@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/sproudfoot

FACT BOX:

Selected results from the Dignity Project report:

– 49 per cent of Canadians say if poor people really want to work, they can always find a job

– 43 per cent agree that “a good work ethic is all you need you to escape poverty”

– 41 per cent say that if we gave poor people more assistance, they would “take advantage”

– 28 per cent believe people living in poverty “usually have lower moral values”

– 23 per cent believe people are poor because they’re lazy

– 37 per cent agree that people living in poverty in Canada “still have it pretty good”

– 24 per cent say they don’t really see many people in Canada who are “truly poor”

– 18 per cent say poverty is a problem we can’t really do much about

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