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Focus on strategy to end poverty could save Canada billions of dollars

For immediate release

Ottawa, September 28, 2011 – Canadians are paying a very high cost for the preventable consequences of poverty when they could potentially save billions of dollars by investing to end poverty, according to a thought-provoking new report, The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty, published today by the National Council of Welfare.

“It is important that Canadians are aware of one of our most expensive spending patterns—paying top-dollar on temporary fixes for the problems that grow out of poverty,” said Dr. John Rook, Chair of the Council. “The good news is even more vital. A better pattern is already partially in place, in policies and programs that enable people to get out of poverty, not just cope with it, and to be well and to thrive. Now, we need to get the whole job done.”The report draws on a wide range of local, national and international research from economics to epidemiology to illustrate how reducing poverty benefits everyone, no matter where we sit on the income ladder.

The report’s findings include:

• In 2007, the amount it would have taken for every Canadian to have an income over the poverty line was $12.6 billion. The consequences of poverty that year added up to almost double that amount. Despite this spending, by 2009, 3.2 million Canadians (9.6%) were still living in poverty.
• Indirect costs drive up the cost of poverty. Stable housing costs less than shelter, ambulance, police, hospital and other bills resulting from homelessness. Similarly, basic medicine costs far less than emergency wards, where people end up when they can’t afford medicine. This pattern can be found in the justice system, education, employment, business and other areas.
• Societal costs reflect the wasted potential—and tax dollars—of people who could be contributing more to the economy if they did not go hungry, or continued to be poorly paid, ill-housed, stigmatized or ignored.
• Solving poverty is about more than money because humans are social beings. The daily wear-and-tear of stress, including discrimination and lack of respect, can physically damage brains and bodies. The lower you are on the income ladder, the more stressors you are likely to face, with the fewest resources to cope. There is a direct relationship between poverty and poor health.
• The benefits of programs are often underreported. Child and seniors’ benefits, for example, provide secure, non-stigmatizing incomes broadly in society, and they have benefits well beyond individual recipients. The improved wellbeing of today’s seniors compared to the past enables them to remain active in their communities or to help care for grandchildren.

The Council’s recommendations in the report focus on: a Canada-wide strategy to ensure everything works together; a sustained investment plan; a design framework centred on wellbeing; and a forum that brings people and ideas together to get the best results.

Rook emphasized Canada has more options than some other countries struggling with poverty and spending pressures, including wealth, experience, public support for mutual responsibility and social innovation. “The way forward is practical and within our grasp, building on what we have and know already,” he said.

The full report, an ‘in-brief’ version and additional documentation are available at

The National Council of Welfare is an independent body established to advise the federal government on issues related to poverty.

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Media Contact:

Carrie-Ann Breckenridge
(613) 277-4458
[email protected]

Files English
• The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty (HTML)
• The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty (PDF 3786056 bytes)