The human, economic cost of poverty

NiagaraFallsReview.ca – news
September 26, 2012.   By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Poverty costs Niagara $1.38 billion a year in lost productivity, health-care expenses and social-support programs, according to a new report.

“We have a pretty good idea that people living in poverty have a lower life expectancy, we certainly know that people suffer more stress and anxiety,” says David Siegel, director of the Niagara Community Observatory at Brock University.

The observatory worked with the Niagara Research and Planning Council and the Niagara Workforce Planning Board to prepare a policy brief called: Are the Consequences of Poverty Holding Niagara Back?

“By looking at poverty in Niagara through a new lens — one of creating an investment model to help reduce the costs of the consequences of poverty — we could boost our local economy substantially,” says Siegel.

The report states the poorest 20% take up more than 30% of health-care costs, compared to the richest 20% taking up about 15%. People living in poverty tend to have poor nutrition and can’t afford prescriptions and dental care.

“The roots of the consequences of poverty are multi-faceted and complex,” states the report. “Thus, the investment strategy that we undertake in Niagara will require acknowledgement that it, too, will be multi-faceted and complex. “It will require Niagara-wide co-operation, leadership and innovation to achieve our collective return on investment.”

Siegel was part of a panel that released and discussed the report with community-agency leaders at the Clarion Hotel in Fort Erie Wednesday.

“We really have to think about serious ways to eliminate poverty across the board,” he said. “We talk about things like education and training so that people will have skills that match available jobs.”

Siegel says a person can be considered poor if they have little-to-no discretionary income after purchasing necessities such as food, shelter and clothing.

“We do know that something over 5% of the population is living below what we call the low-income cut off, but that 5% figure masks the idea that it rises to almost 15% for recent immigrants, it’s almost that high for female-headed families, it’s almost that high for persons with disabilities.”

Niagara Research and Planning Council chairwoman Catherine Mindorff-Facca said the discrepancy between the rich and poor is widening.

“The message today is to … focus on programs that have been validated to make a difference in poverty, such as literacy … and an investment plan in people to turn it all around.”

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1.38 billion — Niagara’s annual poverty cost

662 million — Lost productivity

439 million — Employment Insurance, Ontario Works

277.7 million — Health care

If not spent on poverty social costs, $277.7 million could: Build hospital every two years, or build 1,200 new houses, or build 17 retirement homes, or buy 648 public-transit buses, or employ 5,000 people per year with yearly salary of $55,000

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