In November 2014 the Alliance for a Poverty-free Toronto, CAS Toronto, Family Service Toronto, Colour of Poverty and Social Planning Toronto released The Hidden Epidemic: A report on child and family poverty in Toronto, a report highlighting the growing number of low income children and families living within Canada’s largest city.
Findings from the report concluded that approximately 29% (more than a quarter) of Toronto’s children are living in poverty with people of African and Middle Eastern backgrounds being about three times more likely to fall within this low-income status.
Michael Polanyi, a community development worker at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, played a major role in the creation and public presentation of the report. “Statistics Canada releases data based on tax forms that people fill out, so it gives very detailed indications of poverty,” he explains of the data used to write the report. “Basically the cut-off they use, (and there are a lot of low income measures), is called The Low Income Measure and is calculated as half of the median family income adjusted with family size.” According to Statistics Canada, The Low Income Measure is the most commonly used measure of poverty.
Hopeful outcomes from the report’s release include strengthening child and family services throughout the community and creating an informed understanding of the role of child welfare agencies in their communities.
“Early life experiences of poverty impact throughout the life cycle,” says Polanyi.
“The stigma is prevalent; people don’t want to be labeled as impoverished by somebody else.”
Polanyi adds that there’s a measure of the extent to which children are emotionally, intellectually, and physically ready to learn when they start school, and that children living in low-income areas are more likely to be compromised along those sorts of markers. “Even from grade three and grade six when they do standardized tests, children in low income schools and areas are less likely to be meeting the provincial standards… They’re less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to go on to post-secondary education. Poverty not only affects your physical wellbeing but also it adds to the stress and isolation of growing-up and inflicts a stigma which has a huge psychological impact as well.”
Polanyi goes on to elaborate how reducing poverty makes economic sense for all Canadians, an idea that may seem logical but is not necessarily taken into consideration. “One of the big studies was by the Ontario Association of Food Banks and they basically found that overall poverty incurs a cost of between $10-13 billion a year in lost tax revenues. People living in poverty tend to have ill health and tend to rely more on healthcare and social support, so the government has to pay for these services, even as it loses income tax revenues from low income people who are not in paid employment.”
Upon the report’s November release, Toronto’s new Mayor John Tory was quick to respond, pledging to take action to reduce child-poverty across Toronto. This positive municipal response was just one of many that Polanyi, along with others involved in the child welfare sector, are hoping will spark new solutions.
Expanding access to housing, income support, transit, childcare, and recreational activities are all critical steps towards poverty reduction.
While the report paints a disturbing picture, it does offer hope for significant action in the near future.