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House of Commons income inequality report fails poor Canadians

from Citizens for Public Justice

Citizens for Public JusticeOTTAWA: December 11, 2013 – A report on income inequality released by the House of Commons’ Finance Committee yesterday doesn’t do nearly enough to address the needs of low-income Canadians, says national faith-based organization Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ).

According to CPJ’s Making Ends Meet report, released today, low-income families are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. Making Ends Meet is the final report in CPJ’s Poverty Trends Scorecard series and notes that since the 2008-09 recession, the average price of goods and services has risen 6.7 per cent. Meanwhile, the average after-tax income for the poorest 20 per cent of households fell by 1.3 per cent over that same period. Many low-income families are turning to food banks, shelters, and credit cards to get by.

“While there was reason for optimism when parliamentarians from all parties voted in favour of conducting the inequality study, it’s evident that improving the well-being of Canada’s poor wasn’t a priority,” says CPJ Executive Director Joe Gunn.

The Finance Committee’s report, quietly released hours before the House of Commons rose for an early Christmas break, contains 24 recommendations on issues ranging from labour markets to education.

“The majority of the recommendations urged the federal government to continue on its course of narrow and relentless economic growth,” adds Gunn. “Yet, as the committee’s report itself acknowledges, if Canada continues down this path inequality will continue to grow.”

CPJ was encouraged that the committee’s report included their recommendation to consider increasing the Working Income Tax Benefit (a refundable credit introduced by the Conservatives to help the working poor). Yet other key proposals they had made – including an immediate increase to the Canada Child Tax Benefit to assist low-income children and their families and an improved income support program for Canadians with severe disabilities – were noticeably absent.

“Enhancing programs that assist the poor is the best place for government to start in addressing income inequality,” says CPJ Research Associate Katherine Scott. “Raising the incomes of these households would reduce the most damaging consequences of inequality and ensure everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in society.”

The expense scandal of the poorest Canadians

Making Ends Meet highlights how low-income Canadians spent less money on food (down 7.5 per cent), health and personal care (down 5.5 per cent), and clothing (including diapers) (down 7.9 per cent) in 2011 than in 2010.

“It’s obscene that while senators are being questioned over hundreds of thousands of dollars in housing and travel claims, low-income households are being forced to spend less money on basic necessities this Christmas,” concludes Gunn.

“The federal government has the policy and taxation measures at its disposal to make a real difference in the lives of low-income Canadians. Past experience has shown that progress can be made when government makes poverty a priority. The income inequality study represents a missed opportunity to take action against poverty and brings into question the values guiding Ottawa.”

Citizens for Public Justice is a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization and co-lead of Dignity for All: the campaign for a poverty-free Canada.

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