Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Poverty Report

A new report has been released in Hamilton, Ontario, looking at poverty issues in the city. It is framed as a report on conditions in Canada to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It is notable that this report has been endorsed by Hamilton city council. Not that their endorsement means more than a hill of beans to getting anything changed, of course.

The report is worth reading, in that it contains a lot of important facts that illustrate that poverty and related issues in Hamilton (and, by extension, in Canada as a whole) are bad, that they are getting worse, and that governments are not really doing anything about it. However, most of the statistics are just the latest iteration of stats that have been appearing in reports for years, to the profound indifference of the state, the media, and the general public -- including, when it comes to actually doing things more substantive than endorsing a report that most of their constituents will never know exists, the city councillors who voted to wish this document well. I don't know a lot about what is going on in terms of social movement activity around poverty issues in Hamilton at the moment, but even though it does not mention social movements once, in its own way via its echo of so many past documents that have gone unheard, this report is another sign that such activity is essential to winning even the modest kinds of changes for which it argues.

I feel weird about this paragraph because I know two of the authors, and both like them personally and have lots of respect for their politics, but I do have some concern with the analysis in the report. My main issue is the lack of integration of race and gender. One short section, called "Vulnerable Groups," serves as a catch-all for stats related to every group that disproportionately experiences poverty, while those issues are largely unmentioned in the rest of the report. And though the disproportionate poverty of Aboriginal and people of colour communities is noted, the word "racism" does not appear in the report once -- a dubious circumstance for any document dealing with modern-day urban poverty in Canada. However, I know from personal experience in the sector that attempting to insert that word into documents coming out of mainstream social services in Hamilton (or most Ontario cities), let alone a more substantive analysis around race and gender, is a seriously uphill battle. Mainstream social service agencies can be vicious even towards other mainstream agencies if they try to talk about racism or suggest that related changes are necessary in how such institutions function.

Overall, though, it is a very useful collection of information, and if it helps to embarass the Canadian state on the world stage, then it is serving a good purpose.

And here are a few tidbits that jumped out at me as I read:

"During the period, the after-tax income of families in the bottom 5% of income decreased by approximately 21.4%, while the after tax income of the top 5% of families increased by a corresponding 21.2%."

"In a survey of over 300 food bank users in Hamilton, 81% of parents admitted they go without food, often or sometimes, so that their children can eat."

"For instance, while the poverty rate for male-led single parent families with children aged 6 and under is 37%, the corresponding poverty rate for female-led single parent families with children aged 6 and under is 81%."

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