There is no excuse for poverty in a society as wealthy as ours. The consequences are far reaching and impact more than just the number of people on the street or dollars in a bank account. Canadians deserve to be able to live a life that holds value to them. People need to have their basic needs met so that people can fully participate in economic, political, social, and cultural life.

The Impact of Poverty

4.9 million Canadians live in poverty. That is 1 in 7 people. Indigenous people, newcomers and refugees, single parent families, and children are most impacted. See more detailed snapshot of poverty.

Poverty has been consistently linked with poorer health, higher health care costs, greater demands on social and community services, more stress on family members, and diminished school success – not to mention huge costs associated with reduced productivity and foregone economic activity. Yet governments claim a lack of sufficient resources to adequately address the problem all the while paying for the damaging consequences of living in poverty.

According to 2008 and 2016 studies, poverty in Canada costs us between $72 and $85 billion each year. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that the total annual cost of homelessness to the Canadian economy is $7.05 billion dollars, including the cost of emergency shelters, social services, health care, and corrections.

In Canada, hunger is a real problem

If food banks, soup kitchens, and other front line agencies across the country were to shut down tomorrow, poverty and hunger would become much more visible.

  • Over 860,000 people in Canada visit the food bank each month.
  • 1 in 3 people helped by food banks in Canada are children.
  • Food banks were started in Canada in the early 1980s as a temporary way to address hunger. They were never intended to be a permanent measure.
  • 1 in 8 people in Canada experience some level of food insecurity.

Social Determinants of Health

The World Health Organization has declared poverty to be the single largest determinant of health. Poverty can and does lead to illness (due to poor nutrition, inadequate shelter, greater environmental risks and lesser access to healthcare) but the opposite is also true; illness leads to poverty by reducing household savings, overall productivity, and quality of life for individuals and families.

The United Nations has repeatedly told the Government of Canada that its poverty levels are unacceptable in light of the country’s wealth and that Canada is obliged to do better and must take immediate steps to address poverty, including by adopting a national plan or strategy. Adopting an anti-poverty plan is not only just and fair, it makes sound financial sense.

A Commitment to Human Dignity

Solving poverty requires a commitment to human dignity and justice and it requires recognition that when people are denied adequate housing, an adequate income, and adequate food, their human rights are violated. A human rights framework transforms the discussion from deprivation to a question of citizenship and dignity. Human rights are a set of standards by which we can measure our effectiveness in eradicating poverty.

Canada has ratified a number of international treaties committing itself to ensuring that the most disadvantaged enjoy an adequate standard of living. Under international human rights law, Canada is expected to progressively eliminate poverty in a reasonable fashion in light of their maximum available resources. It is also expected that Canada will avoid doing things that make people worse off and address any social programming that is discriminatory.

What does a Human Rights Approach Look Like?

A human rights approach would focus on equity in all aspects from development to review. Consultation with groups most affected by poverty as well as a levels of government is instrumental in human rights are respected. The plan must be accountable to those who it is meant to assist and it must have timelines and measurable goals. Finally, there must be remedial mechanisms such as ombudsmen, tribunals, or parliamentary hearings to make sure that human rights can be enforced.

For more information on a human rights approach to poverty reduction, click here.

We Need a Plan. We Have a Plan.

The experiences of poverty are widespread and exact a heavy toll on individuals and families in Canada.

The Dignity for All model advocates an accountable human rights approach to eradicate poverty. The model anti-poverty plan is a way forward, with a broad focus on income security, housing, health, food security, employment, and early childhood education and care.

Check out the model plan to see what needs to be done to move forward. You can take action and share the plan today!