As published in the Toronto Star

in response to the article Defining Poverty

On Saturday, April 19, as part of its War on Poverty series, the Toronto Star published an article and editorial on defining and measuring poverty in Ontario. It highlighted research being done to devise an “Ontario-made definition of poverty” called a “deprivation index”.  A deprivation index identifies a list of basic necessities and identifies as poor those people who cannot afford several of those items.  The SPNO responded to the idea of a deprivation index as the main measure of poverty in Ontario with the following letter to the editor.

Tell us how you think poverty should be measured by leaving a comment to this post.

The bar must be raised higher

April 21, 2008

Re:What’s the true definition of poor?

April 19

How do any of us know how well we are doing financially? We think of how much money we make in a year. Do we have enough to pay our expenses every month? Are we falling into debt or able to save for vacations, house renovations, our children’s education or whatever?

Generally, income is the measure we use to indicate how well we are doing. In Canada, the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) has been used as an unofficial poverty indicator. The European Union uses the Low Income Measure (LIM) as the actual measure of poverty. Anyone living on less than 60 per cent of the median income for a person in a similar situation is poor using the LIM.

The deprivation index may be a useful supplement to these basic measures, but it can hardly serve as a benchmark of success for a poverty-reduction strategy. It may give us a qualitative appreciation for the hardships that people in poverty experience. The proportion of people not able to afford many items on a list of basic necessities may actually be a sign of the degree of destitution within our poor population.

It would be wrong, however, to focus poverty-reduction efforts on the poorest of the poor in such a way that those hovering just above the deprivation index but below adequate income levels are once again left out. Everyone who lives in Ontario should be able to meet everyday living expenses and also have some reasonable cushion for unanticipated needs, like repairing broken glasses. We can, with a comprehensive poverty-reduction strategy, hold ourselves to a higher standard than the deprivation index.

We look forward to working with the province to establish the LICO or LIM as the benchmark indicator or measure of change. Adding a deprivation index as evidence of how bad things are for those at the lowest income levels will ensure we are making the mark.

Janet Gasparini, Chair, Social Planning Network of Ontario, Sudbury, Ont.