A cup used to collect coins.
A cup used to collect coins. Credit: Nick Fewings / Unsplash Credit: Nick Fewings / Unsplash

The pandemic has shown that poverty is a policy choice, according to a new report by Campaign 2000, a coalition dedicated to ending child and family poverty. 

“Pandemic benefits, which included emergency and recovery benefits, broadened Employment Insurance criteria and one-time top-ups to refundable tax-credits, including the Canada Child Benefit, helped to stave off people falling into poverty,” the report reads. “During this time of crisis, Canada reached record low poverty and child poverty rates.” 

The report, titled Pandemic Lessons: Ending Child and Family Poverty is Possible, explains that the sharp decline in poverty rates show that poverty is not an economic inevitability, so long as governments have the political will to address it. Accessible, low barrier income supports have proven to be useful tools in combating poverty during the pandemic. 

Poverty reduction policies must go beyond throwing money at the issue, according to Sabrina Teklab, an advocate for students and families at the Centre for Resilience & Social Development. Teklab spoke to the media and Campaign 2000’s press conference to launch this report. 

“I echoed the call for a trauma informed approach to addressing poverty and the importance of rights based policies,” Teklab said in an interview with rabble.ca

While services and income support are available to people in Canada, flaws in these systems expose people to potential trauma. Teklab said anti-racism and anti-discrimination work needs to be built into poverty reduction strategies from the start.

“When we’re talking about poverty, there are a lot of systems, especially systems that newcomers have to access.” Teklab said. “We’re finding that when they’re actually trying to access those services, they’re being re-traumatized by the system.” 

Some factors that contribute to trauma when attempting to access support include surveillance, discrimination and difficulty self-advocating caused by a limited knowledge of one’s individual rights. 

These risks can be mitigated not only by trauma-informed and human rights focused policy, but by holding space for the important work done by community organizations. 

After the launch of the report, Campaign 2000 and allied organizations participated in a community roundtable discussion to discuss how they can further dedicate themselves to ending poverty. 

In attendance was Natalie Appleyard, a socio-economic policy analyst for Citizens for Public Justice, a member organization of the Campaign 2000 coalition. Appleyard said the role of community organizations is two pronged. Community organizations have the opportunity to do advocacy work informed by the lived experiences of the masses and to provide mutual aid to those who have urgent needs. 

“There’s still such a lack of representation among our elected officials of people who experienced systemic oppression or who have lived experience of poverty,” Appleyard said. “Those experiences are not common knowledge in the spaces where decisions are being made.” 

On the mutual aid side of things, community organizations provide support from a trusted source. 

“There’s day to day community work supporting individuals. Helping them stay or get housing, get food in their pantries and getting social and disability assistance. There’s so much in the day to day that people are struggling with,” said Leila Sarangi, the national director of Campaign 2000. 

Sarangi pointed to the gaps in access to government benefits as an example for why support from community organizations is needed. She explained that, for people who do not file their taxes, there are barriers to accessing benefits offered by the government.

“People just don’t engage with the personal income tax system for a lot of different reasons,” Sarangi said.”They might not have the right kinds of ID, they might not have immigration status. As well, if you’re precariously employed, working in a cash based industry or a criminalized industry like sex work, you likely won’t engage with the system.” 

Community organizations help to fill in the gaps for people who need these income supports, Sarangi said. This is done informally through things like fundraising campaigns and donation drives. Internationally, formalized systems to do this work do exist. Sarangi said that the Bolsa Familia program in Brazil is an example. 

“What we saw during the pandemic shutdown was that there were a lot of people who couldn’t access those benefits and really struggled. Migrant workers, sex workers, people with mental health issues, people who were homeless, weren’t getting these benefits,” Sarangi said. “This could be a really important way of getting money through local trusted community organizations, to people who are outside of that tax system.”

Gabriela Calugay-Casuga

Gabriela “Gabby” Calugay-Casuga (she/they) is a writer and activist based in so-called “Ottawa.” They began writing for Migrante Ottawa’s radio show, Talakayang Bayan, in 2017. Since then, she...