National Council
of Welfare
Canada Conseil national
du bien-tre social


The National Council of Welfare stands by its decision to use low income cutoffs as a measure of poverty. The cutoffs are a highly credible measure of low income and they are the main tool used by most social policy researchers across Canada. In our view, the difference between "low income" and "poverty" is largely semantic.

There are certainly other measures of poverty and the Council recognizes that no measure of poverty is perfect. However, the Council strongly believes, as do other major social policy researchers, that the low income cut-offs are the best tool available at this time to identify who is poor and to measure changes in poverty over time.

Mr. Picher seems to advocate the use of a market basket measure of poverty and claims that this approach is being ignored by the Council. The Council is well aware of the market basket measures approach and published a paper on this very topic in 1999.

The market basket measure is an unfinished tool that will not be available for use until next year. Mr. Picherís article uses market basket measure poverty rates for 1996 from a report by the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Social Development Research and Information that created a preliminary market basket measure of poverty. The report listed a number of steps to improve their preliminary measure. This measure can in no way be considered "rigourous and viable" at present.

Mr. Picherís main criticism of the low income cutoffs is that a rich province like Ontario has a higher poverty rate than a poor province like Prince Edward Island. In Mr. Picherís mind, this contradicts other statistics such as unemployment rates, fiscal data and social transfers.

Mr. Picher seems to believe that this apparent inconsistency can be overcome by a market basket measure of poverty. He may have overlooked the fact that even under the preliminary market basket measure of poverty, some of the so-called richer provinces still have poverty rates higher than other supposedly poorer provinces.

By their nature, poverty statistics do not always fall into step with the statistics Mr. Picher cites. Poverty statistics reveal that the wealth of a country, province, or city is not necessarily distributed equitably to all its residents. Simply put, poverty lines are one measure of how well our democracy is working.

Armand Brun
National Council of Welfare

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