The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Canadian population mirrors the effect of poverty on Canadians. The pre-existing challenges associated with poverty were augmented due to the COVID-19 crisis. To address the menace of poverty before the pandemic, in 2018, the Canadian government drafted “Opportunity for All – Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy.”[i] It sought to combat numerous aspects of poverty. However, the goals and timelines of this policy were set before the advent of COVID-19, and therefore the implications of the policy are likely to differ in the post-pandemic era.
Due to the pandemic, inequities in crisis situations have gained attention. Particularly, the pandemic’s disproportionate adverse effects on people in poverty have surfaced not only financial difficulties, but also the inability of certain sectors to use social services effectively amidst sparse availability of essential services. As a result, the existing vulnerabilities increasingly manifest and raise policy-based challenges for all levels of government. This article elaborates on such policy-based challenges due to the application of pre-COVID poverty reduction strategies in the post-COVID era, keeping in view the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on specific vulnerable sectors.
Before the advent of the pandemic, around 10 percent of the population was estimated to live below the poverty line in 2018.[ii] This brings us to an observation that, at the beginning of the crisis, a significant percentage of Canadians lived in poverty. COVID-19 worsened the situation in various ways. The pandemic impacted financial security and increased hazards to those using emergency shelters. Substantial numbers of people were already facing difficulties providing for their food even before the pandemic. Their ability to satisfy their fundamental requirements will certainly be adversely impacted by rising unemployment in the post-COVID future.[iii]
As for the situation during the pandemic, the data suggests that, in 2020, 6.4 percent of the population—approximately 2.4 million Canadians—lived below the poverty line.[iv] Although it may seem positive that there was a decline in the percentage of the population living below the poverty line compared to before the pandemic, a closer look reveals that this data might be misleading. The reason is that certain segments of the population experience greater rates of poverty than others. This is particularly the case for individuals who were employed in the hospitality, tourism, transportation, and food sectors, which were more affected by the pandemic than others.[v] The Tourism Industry Association of Canada estimated that the tourism industry shed up to $6 billion a month, and almost 778,000 jobs overall, during the pandemic.[vi] The Hotel Association of Canada reported that nationwide hotel visitation was less than 10 percent as of March 21, 2020.[vii] Thousands of workers were laid off by airlines and the businesses that support them. Additionally, since the start of the pandemic, certain taxi businesses reported roughly 75 percent decline in customer demand.[viii]
Therefore, despite the prima facie decline in the percentage of the population below the poverty line, a more detailed analysis reveals how subsections of the population were nonetheless deeply affected by job loss in specific sectors due to the pandemic.[ix] Marginal employees and members of underserved communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19-related economic shutdowns. Keeping this in view, as Canada transitions into pandemic recovery, poverty reduction may begin to stagnate. The recovery would be focused on the overall population, but it would fail to address the situations of specific subsections. These subsections are the most vulnerable groups and could be neglected without specific relief strategies.
The discussion above demonstrates how COVID-19 has made poverty worse in Canada. From the challenges faced by the application of pre-COVID poverty reduction strategies in the post-COVID era, one can see that, in the pre-COVID era, the policy was not devoid of shortcomings but managed to succeed at certain levels. An ideal poverty reduction strategy should be able to transfer funds in a targeted manner to low-income households in order to alleviate poverty. The strategy might have shown success in the short term, however, is likely to falter in the long term owing to a lack of new targeted funds. Moreover, the policy lacks innovation and the programs are not carefully assessed.
Now the question is whether the policy will suffice despite its shortcomings in the post-pandemic era. These policy measures would need to be strengthened to achieve the required targets. The wisest choice the government can make to reduce the pandemic’s effect on poverty is to assist the provinces in targeting the economic advantages they provide to the most vulnerable members of society.[x] Another option could be the removal of financial and social barriers to provide equal healthcare access to people affected by the pandemic. To attain these goals, some form of monitoring is crucial. With political commitment and an awareness of the adverse effects of the pandemic, government policies must be updated by removing the aforementioned shortcomings in order to attain the intended sustainable development goals in the post-pandemic period.
About the author: Meenakshi Singh is a law student at Symbiosis International University in Pune, India, and a Legal Intern at the Supreme Court of India.
[i] See Government of Canada, “Opportunity for All – Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy”(last modified 20 April 2022), online: <www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/poverty-reduction/reports/strategy.html>.
[ii] See Statistics Canada, “Canadian Income Survey, 2019” (23 March 2021) at 2, online (pdf): <www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210323/dq210323a-eng.pdf>.
[iii] See Statistics Canada, “Canada’s Official Poverty Dashboard of Indicators: Trends, March 2022” (23 March 2022), online: <www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2022011-eng.htm>.
[iv] See Statistics Canada, “Canadian Income Survey – 2020 (CIS)” (23 March 2022) online: <www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&SDDS=5200>.
[v] See Statistics Canada, “Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at Basic Prices, by Industry, Monthly, Growth Rates (x 1,000,000)” (last modified 10 November 2022), online: < www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=3610043402>; Statistics Canada, “Employment by Industry, Annual” (last modified 10 November 2022), online: < www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1410020201>.
[vi] See Tourism Industry Association of Canada, “Canada’s Travel & Tourism Industry Requires Immediate Government Action and Support” (20 March 2020), online: <myemail.constantcontact.com/Canada-s-Travel—Tourism-Industry-Requires-Immediate-Government-Action-and Support.html?soid=1103726288554&aid=Gqk_xEQw3Xo>.
[vii] See “Canada’s Hotel Industry Hammered by COVID-19”, CBC News (21 March 2020), online: <www.cbc.ca/amp/1.5505693>.
[viii] See “COVID-19: Canada Layoff Tracker”, Maclean’s (30 April 2020), online: <www.macleans.ca/economy/covid-19-canada-layoff-tracker/>.
[ix] See Statistics Canada, “Employment by Industry, Annual” (29 March, 2022), online: <www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1410020201>; Statistics Canada, “Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at Basic Prices by Industry, Monthly, Growth Rates (x1,000,000)” (29 March 2022), online: <www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=3610043402>.
[x] See Department of Finance Canada, “Canada Social Transfer” (19 December 2011), online: Government of Canada <www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/programs/federal-transfers/canada-social-transfer.html>.