What poverty means for Canada's poorest households | National Union of Public and General Employees

What poverty means for Canada's poorest households

One in five cannot pay for basic needs like glasses and dental care or participate meaningfully in community recreational activities.

Download Study - The Affordability Gap - Canadian Centre for Policy AlternativesOttawa (28 Sept. 2009) - One in every five Canadian households is too poor to afford eyeglasses or dental care or share meaningfully in community recreational activities.

This is the conclusion of a new study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) on spending patterns in Canadian households.

Titled The Affordability Gap, the study is based on 2007 data from Statistics Canada. It was conducted by Steve Kerstetter, a CCPA research associate.

“The poorest 20% of Canadian households live in worlds far removed from the richest 20%. In every spending category, the richest 20% spend six or seven times more than the poorest 20%,” Kerstetter says.

The CCPA says Canada’s poorest households are much less likely to buy sporting equipment for themselves or their children.

"They often don’t spend money on eyeglasses, dental care and home furnishings. They often don’t have cell phones, personal computers and high-speed Internet access. Even going to a movie or buying a newspaper can be a rare treat," it reports.

“We live in one of the most affluent nations on the planet, but Canada’s poorest households are struggling to buy basic goods and services that most Canadians would consider reasonable for normal living in the 21st century,” Kerstetter adds.

By contrast, there are no such problems in the richest households, where good homes, vacation and vehicles are taken for granted.

“These differences arise directly from a lack of sufficient income among Canada’s poorest households,” Kerstetter says.

He calls on governments to increase welfare rates and the minimum wage to help combat the problem. The Affordability Gap is the latest report from the CCPA highlighting the growing gap between rich and poor in Canada.

Among the study's highlights:

  • 34% of low-income households had high-speed Internet access compared to 89% of high-income households.
  • 40% of poor households had cell phones compared to 85% of wealthy households.
  • 31% of poor households had pets compared to 62% of wealthy households.
  • Spending on transportation was more than 15 times higher in high-income households than low-income ones - $17,366 compared to $1,074.
  • Spending on recreation was three times higher - $8,449 versus $2,680.
  • 12% of poor households spent money on sports equipment compared to 61% of wealthy ones.
  • Rich households were more than three times more likely to have computers than poor ones - 80% to 26%.
  • 10% of poor households visited museums compared to 48% of wealthy homes.
  • 15% of the poorest group spent money on the performing arts versus 57% for the richest.
  • 36% of the poorest group spent money on eye care, compared to 72% of the richest.
  • 64% of rich households spent money on dental care compared to 29% of poor households.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

More information:
Download The Affordability Gap - PDF, 396kb

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