What do we really think about poverty?

We have more information available to us on a daily basis via the internet than ever before in our history.  Some of the information is even accurate!  But having information available is not entirely satisfactory unless there is a purpose for it and it is used by someone.  For example, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) provides a lot of statistical information about rents, availability of units, types of units, rent charged per units. And this is done for almost every statistical population and subset that you can think of.

So what you ask?

And that’s precisely the point.  So what? Of what value is all that information?

Two disconnected events happened recently that when tied together suggest a way you could use that information.

The first event was the federal election, with its national televised debates, scores of town hall meetings, thousands of personal face to face meetings with politicians, numerous editorials and news articles, but not a whole lot of discussion about poverty.  Over 3 million Canadians currently live in poverty and that issue was rarely addressed!

The second event was the All Our Sisters conference in London from May 9 to 11, 2011 the first Canadian forum on housing and safe communities for women.  Three days of discussions focused on housing and poverty and many related issues.  Issues that affect not just women, but all of society.  Not simply some nebulous society, but our communities and neighbourhoods here in London.

CMHC defines affordable housing in part as requiring that no more than 30% of income be spent on housing.

Current minimum wage in Ontario $10.25 per hour. Assuming someone works 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year, that equates to gross income of $21,320.  Affordable housing for this person according to CMHC would be $6,396, or $533 per month.

According to a provincial website “Calculating the amount of money you may get [from social assistance] is complicated. You should contact your local Ontario Works (OW) office for more information”.  Others have already pointed out that “since 1995 [OW payments] have fallen 46% in real dollars accounting for inflation and [suffered a further] 22% reduction in benefits. The program makes it difficult to escape poverty and creates a ‘welfare wall’ for many.”  Suffice it to say that the maximum shelter allowance from OW ranges from $368 for a single person to $761 for a family of 6 or more.

To put that in perspective for London, CMHC statistics report that in 2010 the average private apartment monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in the London census metropolitan area was $700, for a two bedroom average rent was $869, and for a three bedroom $1,038.

Strictly looking at the numbers there appears to be a disconnect between the cost of affordable housing, average rents and assistance provided by the government to those who are in need.  Let’s hope that we all (especially the politicians) do a better job addressing the issue of poverty in the provincial election later this year. Or perhaps the lack of discussion is a reflection of what we think about poverty.

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