Defining the poor

Posted on April 19, 2008 in Governance Debates, Inclusion Debates, Social Security Debates – comment/editorial – Defining the poor
April 19, 2008

Ontario is on the right track in maintaining it must come up with a definition of poverty as part of its strategy to tackle it.

Deb Matthews, minister of children and youth services and chair of a cabinet committee drafting the government’s anti-poverty plan, told poverty activists this week that one of the biggest challenges she faces is defining what poverty is and measuring progress in tackling it.

As reported today by the Star’s Laurie Monsebraaten, much of that work is being done by the Daily Bread Food Bank, which is surveying 2,000 low-income people to help the government devise an Ontario-made definition of poverty, or a “deprivation index.”

It will be based on a list of up to 10 basic necessities Those who can’t afford at least two of those items would be considered poor. Heading the list so far are $20 a month in savings for emergencies, daily fresh fruit and vegetables and a small amount of money each week to spend on themselves.

The food bank’s efforts are based on similar innovative work done in Ireland in the late 1980s. Similar indexes are being developed by Australia, Britain and the European Union.

The food bank plans to distribute the survey to social service agencies across the city so that the views of ethnic and cultural groups are included. The food bank will also poll the general public on the matter.

Many anti-poverty activists worry the province will use developing this poverty index as an excuse for inaction. They are also concerned that since fewer people will likely be considered poor under the new measure, right-wing groups will argue against the need for any government action on the poverty front.

But Premier Dalton McGuinty has committed his government to devising a poverty reduction strategy by the end of the year, complete with targets and timetables. A poverty index should be a progressive step in the process, not a delaying tactic.

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