Open Letter to the Editor of the Ottawa Citizen - Re: Measuring Poverty
October 2, 1998
To the editor:
It was with disappointment, but not with surprise, that we read in the Citizen another salvo in its attack on the use of Statistics Canada's low-income cutoff as a measure of hardship. We were also disappointed to see such a casual dismissal of the growing income disparity in Ottawa-Carleton as cause for concern. We must, however, take exception to both.
Might we point out that the United Way, of which the Canadian Council on Social Development is a member agency, is not alone in using StatsCan's low-income cutoff as a measure of poverty. Since 1976, Gallup polls have repeatedly shown the public identifies poverty levels at a nearly identical level to the low-income cutoff. The recent United Nations Human Development Report also used a not dissimilar measure in determining poverty levels for industrialized countries, and out of the 17 countries on that list, Canada placed 10th using this standard measure. It would seem, therefore, that in using the low-income cutoff as a proxy for measuring poverty, the United Way is placing itself in rather respectable company.
The growing income divide in Ottawa has occurred not just because we have more rich people, but also because people at the bottom of the income scale have lost ground in recent years. At the same time, social services, education and health care funding have been reduced. The United Way is making the extremely valid point that contributions to its annual campaign are more vital now than ever.
Although you trumpet the rich as the primary source of charitable donations, statistics show that donors in lower income categories give a higher proportion of their annual income to charity than do the well-to-do. The most generous group of donors in Canada are seniors -- whose average incomes are the lowest of any age group.
David P. Ross
Canadian Council on Social Development