Poverty is increasing and the gap between the rich and poor is widening. Poverty is not an inevitable part of the human social condition. It does not affect only "the disadvantaged." Poverty is not the result of not working hard enough. Poverty is policy-created and policy-maintained.
Poverty affects women more profoundly than men. In Canada 1 woman in every 7 lives in poverty .1 Women's poverty is the result of social and economic practices that devalue women's paid work and fails to recognize or financially compensate women's important work of raising children and caring for family members. Women's vulnerability to poverty is increased by factors such as race, ethnicity, age, physical and mental ability,
and immigrant status. Because women live in the deepest poverty, if we address the poverty of the poorest of poor women, we will eliminate poverty for all people living in Canada. Poverty can be eliminated through policy change.
How is poverty measured in Nova Scotia? Statistics Canada defines poverty in economic terms. It uses low-income cut-offs (LICOs) to identify income levels below which people are considered to be living in poverty. That is, they do not have enough money to cover the basic necessities of life - food, shelter, clothing, and so on. In Nova Scotia, the 2005 before tax LICO for a family of two living in a rural area is $17,807.
In Halifax it is $22,276. For a rural family of four, it is $26,579. For a Halifax family of four it is $33,251.
In Nova Scotia, the minimum wage is $7.60 per hour as of May 1, 2007. The gross earnings of someone working 40 hours per week at minimum wage would be $15,808. A single parent in Nova Scotia who is working full-time, full-year at minimum wage and raising one child working would fall $2,000 to $6,468 below the 2005 poverty line.
Two parents working full-time, full-year at minimum wage and raising two children in Halifax fall $1,635 below the 2005 poverty line. On top of their basic necessities, many working parents also have childcare and extra transportation costs. These parents are working hard. This is policy-created poverty.
Most people need between 420 and 700 insurable hours of work in a 52 week period to qualify for Employment Insurance (EI). If they are working for the first time or have been absent from the work force for two years, they need 910 hours. Only 43% of unemployed people even qualify for EI benefits.2
Those who do qualify are faced with a two-week unpaid waiting period, which places the poorest and most vulnerable in real danger.
After two weeks an eligible person will receive 55% of their earnings averaged over the last 26 weeks. This means a single mother earning minimum wage would have to support herself and her child(ren) on a weekly benefit of $167 for 14 - 45
weeks depending upon region. This amounts to $2,341 to $7,524 respectively. Annually, this is $10,028 below the LICO for a family of two living in a rural area and $19,935 below the 2005 LICO in Halifax. This is policy-created poverty.
The Nova Scotia Employment Supports and Income Assistance (ESIA) Program is a last stop for people with little or no income. It is supposed to provide for basic expenses that include food, rent or mortgage, utilities like heat and electricity, clothing, and taxes. The monthly income of a single mother with one child living on income assistance in Nova Scotia is $1,076 ($12,917 annual income) including the child tax benefits.3
This income is $4,890 (rural) to $9,359 (Halifax) below the LICO.
If these families had an extra $4,000 (rural) or $9,000 (Halifax) per year, they would still be living in poverty. This is policy-created poverty.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING SUPPORTS
To move out of poverty a single mother with one child needs to earn a wage of at least $11 an hour. Most jobs that pay this wage require post-secondary education. Yet single parents on income assistance are not allowed to retain their income assistance benefits while they attend university.
A mother attending university cannot pay her tuition and support both herself and her children on a student loan. This is policy-created poverty.
Women earn approximately 71% of what men earn for full-time, full-year work. In the world's 29 most developed countries, Canada has the 5th largest wage gap.4
The principle of pay equity redresses discrimination in wages based on gender. Although the Task Force on Pay Equity recommends the adoption of pro-active federal pay equity legislation, the federal government does not intend to table a Bill before the end of 2006.5
This lack of policy is creating poverty.
Senior women who are single, widowed or divorced and over the age of 65 have a 41.5% chance of living in poverty.6
This is because many women throughout their lives earn low wages, work in insecure jobs, and carry the main responsibility for child rearing. Therefore women are more likely than men to depend upon public pensions as their primary source of income.
Pensions for senior women are 58% of those of senior men.7
This is policy created poverty.
Call for an End to Poverty!
In spite of consecutive federal budget surpluses, efforts to address poverty throughout Canada have been minimal. Women's poverty has been deepened and entrenched by social and economic policies and by cuts to social programs and services.
Canada has been admonished by the United Nations for neglecting to live up to its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to address the poverty of women.
Eliminating poverty is not difficult - it does mean thoughtful and deliberate policy changes. It does mean making the connection that the well-being of the most advantaged of us is tied up with ensuring the well-being of the least advantaged of us.
We have an opportunity as Nova Scotians and as Canadians to call for policy changes that will have an immediate and positive impact for all Nova Scotians.
1. National Anti-Poverty Organization, Election Sheet on Poverty in Canada, http://www.napo-onap.ca/en/action.php
2. National Anti-Poverty Organization, Election Sheet on Poverty in Canada, http://www.napo-onap.ca/en/action.php
3. Ross et al, Survival Strategies, Women on Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) in Nova Scotia Provide their Key Recommendations for Policy Reform, Revised October 2006.
4. Canadian Research Institute on the Advancement of Women, Women and Poverty Fact Sheet, 2005.
5. National Association of Women and the Law, Information Sheet on Pay Equity, http://www.nawl.ca/ns/en/index.html
6. Canadian Research Institute on the Advancement of Women, Women and Poverty Fact Sheet, 2005.
7. Barnwell, Georgia, Women and Public Pensions: Working Towards Equitable Policy Change, An initiative of the women's centres in the Western area of Nova Scotia, - Tri-County Women's Centre, Yarmouth, Second Story Women's centre, Bridgewater, and The Women's Place Resource Centre, Bridgetown. 2005.
This fact sheet was prepared by Lucille Harper, Antigonish Women's Resource Centre,
in consultation with Antigonish Canada Social Transfer Action Group and the
CST -- Nova Scotia Action Group.
It was revised by Michael Bradfield, Face of Poverty Consultation, April 2007.