November 3, 2003
Canadians increasingly anxious despite positive indicators
Canadians have a little more spending money in their pockets and more confidence in their job security, but they are less satisfied with the ability of their incomes to meet their basic needs – and increasingly anxious about Canada’s health and social safety nets. These are the findings of the five-year review, 1998 to 2002, of the Personal Security Index (PSI) just released by the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD).
"Canadians have made some trade-offs for economic gains" says Spy Tsoukalas, Senior Researcher at the CCSD and author of the report. "They have on average a little more money in their pockets – but a little less confidence that it will buy them what they need. They also have less confidence in their access to key government services such as health care – and hold little hope that the situation will change."
The PSI, now in its fifth year, is a unique tool developed by the CCSD to compare "objective" indicators of personal security with more subjective results obtained through polling data. It found that the percentage of Canadians who described their incomes as "very adequate" dropped a full ten percentage points, from 57% to 47% – even though average disposable incomes, in constant 1998 dollars, actually increased by about $1,500 over that same period.
John Anderson, Vice-President Research for the CCSD, points out that increasing user-fees for public services such as post-secondary education, and escalating housing costs in major centres - driven in part by a lack of government support for affordable housing - may be straining the budgets of many Canadians. "The tax-cutting policies of the last few years have left Canadians with a little more disposable income and a lot more anxiety about the ability of governments to care for their needs," says Anderson.
The strain on Canadian budgets is also apparent in their record high levels of debt. In 2002, Canadians borrowed an average of 98.4% of their disposable income to buy housing and consumer goods – an increase of 2.5% from 1998, a dramatic increase of 18% from a decade ago, and more than 42 percentage points higher than in 1984, when the average debt to total disposable income ratio was 56%.
Anxiety about the social safety net is contributing to the growing sense of unease. Between 1998 and 2002, the percentage of Canadians who felt confident that they could access health care when needed dropped from 59% to 53%. Despite the Romanow report, and the federal-provincial agreements to address health care concerns, only about one-third of Canadians (34%) expressed confidence in the ability of the federal government to improve the health care system. Over the five-year period the percentage of Canadians who felt confident in the ability of income support programs such as Employment Insurance to sustain them in case of job loss remained consistently low, at 23%.
Canadians are also finding it difficult to balance work, personal and family commitments. PSI found that less than a quarter of Canadians (23%) felt that they could always balance their different commitments. Troubles balancing commitments are clearly linked to stress: among those who said they could never balance their commitments, 53% reported being extremely stressed, compared to 14% among those who said they could always balance those commitments.
"A sense of security requires more than an adequate income, or even job security. It requires support from services such as child care, education and affordable housing, and some accommodations in the workplace such as more flexible and reasonable workloads," says Tsoukalas.
For the second year in a row, British Columbians were gloomiest about their personal security – and this before floods and forest fires. BC residents were most likely (28%) to fear of job loss and were most likely (21%) to consider their income inadequate.
On the bright side, British Columbians lived up to their laid-back image by being most likely (27%) to state that they could always balance their personal, family and work commitments.
There was an East-West divide in confidence in the health care system. More than 50% of residents of the Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Ontario were confident that they would be able to access health care in times of need, while less than 50% of residents of the Prairies, Alberta and BC shared that confidence.
Likewise, the residents of British Columbia were the most likely (62%) to express a lack of confidence in their provincial government’s ability to improve the health care system in the next two years, followed by the Prairies (44%) and Alberta (43%).
Quebec residents continued to be the most fearful of violent and property crime in their neighbourhoods, although Quebec and PEI recorded the lowest rates of violent crime and Quebec falls somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of property crime.
For details see the full report and media materials on the CCSD's website, www.ccsd.ca/pubs/2003/psi/
For further information, contact Janet Creery, Communications Officer,
at (613) 236-5868, ext. 228.
– 30 –
The CCSD is an independent, non-profit research institute
dedicated to improving the social and economic security of Canadians.
Led by a national, voluntary Board of Directors,
the Council’s members share a commitment to improving the lives of Canadians.
Personal Security Index 2003
Canadian Council on Social Development,
190 O'Connor Street, Suite 100,
Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 2R3
Tel: (613) 236-8977, Fax: (613) 236-2750, Web: www.ccsd.ca, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org