Introduction to Poverty Report Card

Introduction: A Changing Picture of Poverty

Poverty in Canada is moving through a transition. The latest data tells us that poverty is on the rise and is rising rapidly. This matches what we’ve seen on the frontlines at food banks, where there has been a 30 per cent increase in demand in the last year alone. However, in the first half of the past decade, between 2015 and 2020, Canada saw the most dramatic and comprehensive declines in poverty on record. In 2015, one in six Canadians (14.5 per cent) were living below the poverty line. Five years later, that figure fell to 6.4 per cent — less than half the former rate and a decline of about 66 per cent.

This welcome and substantial decline in poverty was thanks to three important factors:

  1. Well-targeted public policy interventions like the Canada Child Benefit, which have helped improve the income security and after-tax income of families, particularly among those at the bottom of the income distribution.
  1. An increasingly inclusive labour market from 2015 to 2019, which operated above full employment, and began to pull in vulnerable and low-income people who were traditionally under-represented in paid work, such as mothers, persons with disabilities, Indigenous people, recent immigrants, and single adults.
  1. Crisis response to COVID-19 with measures like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provided a form of basic income for a short time.

This report aims to provide a clear picture of how the story has begun to shift since 2020. Yet, understanding the full extent of this change in poverty trends remains challenging because of data limitations. Due to delays in data availability, policymakers and researchers often rely on datasets that are several years out of date, particularly among datasets like the Census which allow for a richer and more disaggregated analysis of households. This is a separate problem that needs to be corrected in the future.

Although we do not have large-scale Canada-wide data on which to base our analysis for how things are today, there is data showing us that we may be entering a period of rising poverty rates, undercutting the progress made in each of the factors listed above.

In 2022 — just two years after the country’s poverty rates reached an all-time low of 6.4 per cent — rates have increased again by 55 per cent to nearly 10 per cent of people in Canada, effectively cutting progress since 2015 in half. Meanwhile, food insecurity rates — another strong indicator of economic struggle — have increased by over 7 percentage points since 2020, resulting in nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of all Canadians experiencing food insecurity. The reasons for these alarming increases include:

  • Significant and rapid population growth without the social infrastructure ready to absorb such an influx. While this growth has propelled overall economic output and may be beneficial economically by raising potential GDP over the long term, in the short term it has increased pressure on things like housing and food systems. This has added to other underlying inflationary pressures already making their way through most global economies post-COVID-19.
  • Rapid interest rate hikes and the tightening of financial conditions to tackle decades-high rates of inflation. While interest rate hikes are said to be necessary to help lower overall inflation — which theoretically benefits low-income families in the long term because of renewed price stability — the high cost of borrowing has many negative effects in the short term on people with low incomes. It raises the cost of borrowing which passes through in the form of higher debt costs, particularly for vulnerable groups who do not have money to save. And it reduces the ability of companies and governments to invest in things like housing supply, which is needed to reduce shelter cost pressure.
  • The lack of available housing supply, particularly affordable housing, to meet existing needs, has exacerbated recent price pressures on both owners and renters. This has the potential to undo some of the significant progress made since 2018 in reducing the portion of households living in core housing need.
  • The loss of income supports like the CERB and other one-time affordability measures that the federal and provincial governments introduced to provide short-term buffers to both the pandemic and the subsequent inflationary crisis has led to an overall decrease in disposable income for families with low incomes. While some governments have since responded with the introduction of indexation to various income support programs, it is too little too late to avoid a drop in the standard of living.
  • A slowdown in economic activity and a (slowly) rising unemployment rate has reduced the pressure to offer higher wages and continue the progress made toward a more inclusive labour market.

As a result of these and other factors, we should expect that poverty rates will continue to rise as new data becomes available. This means more struggling seniors, more children experiencing food insecurity and more people across Canada worrying about making ends meet. Policymakers need to see this change in data for the urgent issue that it is and work harder, and with renewed commitment, to sustain and extend the progress made to date in reducing poverty.

This task cannot be done by one government body alone. Everyone — local, provincial, territorial, and federal governments — will have to work in unison to tackle poverty head-on. The urgency and scale of the challenge requires unity and partnership, not politics or assigning the blame to someone else. While every province and territory is affected by poverty, each region faces unique challenges and requires different, nuanced solutions.

This report examines the state and experience of poverty across the country and offers an analysis of poverty reduction efforts in each jurisdiction. The report not only contains an analysis of poverty in each province and territory — and a high-level federal analysis — but also offers thoroughly developed report cards based on diverse and reliable data sources.

As such, this report is designed to be accessible to everyone and to offer an insightful window into the precarity of life in poverty and the various poverty reduction initiatives and programs issued by our governments.

The report cards and accompanying analysis will help policymakers and decision-makers at all levels of government to gauge their performance in the fight against poverty and how they can do better by identifying strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for future progress.

We hope these report cards will serve as a signal to Canadians and governments, as they enable us to assess and compare the performance of all governments in their efforts to eliminate poverty across Canada.

The report also aims to increase the public’s understanding of the extent of the assistance (or lack thereof) provided by their provincial and federal governments to individuals and families who live in their communities and are struggling with low incomes and poverty. It aims to encourage greater transparency, accountability, and enhanced poverty alleviation efforts, and has been developed with several audiences in mind.

By shining a spotlight on the poverty landscape in every province and territory in the country, this report aims to stimulate dialogue, cooperation and, most importantly, innovative approaches to address this most significant of issues.

Food Banks Canada hopes that people will use this knowledge to participate in informed discussions and advocate for policies that can make a tangible difference in Canada and help us build a country where no one goes hungry.

Our Approach

Our Purpose

The aim of this report is to offer a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of poverty in Canada. Historically, poverty has been reduced to a single statistic, which is a poverty rate based on the Market Basket Measure (MBM). However, we recognize that poverty is multi-faceted and cannot be adequately captured by this measure alone. This is exemplified by the fact that food insecurity rates are significantly higher than poverty rates, which tells us that people who live above the poverty line still experience food insecurity.

The Structure of the Report

The report is composed of three main parts:

1.   An analysis of each province, territory, and the federal government:

These sections provide insights into the key poverty-related issues in each jurisdiction and provide context for why some of these issues may be persisting. In these analyses, the report examines recent trends in poverty figures and related topics like labour and the cost of living. The analyses also include reviews of recent policy and political action that have influenced the poverty landscape of the region, as well as a closing section dedicated to policy recommendations. These recommendations are tailored to the specific government in place in each jurisdiction. As such, the recommendations are politically realistic and can feasibly be acted on before the release of the next report card.

2.   A Report Card for Each Jurisdiction

These report cards are divided into four sections to help capture the full picture of poverty.

  1. The Experience of Poverty

Based on a national survey, designed and paid for by Food Banks Canada, this section includes five indicators that describe the financial situation of people in 2024. It covers financial stress, how much income people must dedicate to fixed costs, and the perceived adequacy of healthcare and social assistance.

  1. Poverty Measures

This section uses existing and well-established measures of poverty to help balance the Experience of Poverty section, which is more subjective. It covers the poverty and food insecurity rate, unemployment, and the adequacy of social assistance.

Unemployment rates are taken from March 2024 data to reflect the same period as the survey used for the Experience of Poverty and Material Deprivation sections. Food insecurity and poverty rates are taken from the Canadian Income Survey released in April 2024 and reflect data from 2022. Social assistance data is based on Maytree’s Welfare in Canada Report. This report is not released until the summer, and therefore it does not have updates for 2024 yet.

  1. Material Deprivation

Also based on the national survey designed and paid for by Food Banks Canada, this section aims to fill a gap left by other measures like poverty and food insecurity. As stated earlier, poverty and food insecurity indicators cannot alone capture a full picture of how Canadians struggle daily. This section uses a formalized material deprivation index to determine the quality and standard of living for people in Canada.

  1. Legislative Progress

While poverty, food insecurity, and material deprivation represent the result of past omissions in policy action, it is important to acknowledge efforts being made in the present that improve these factors. This section reviews the legislative action taken by the government since the last report to assess whether the policies being introduced are sufficiently tackling the issue of poverty and moving the jurisdiction forward.

For full details on the methodology used to determine grades in the report card, you can visit the methodology section from the table of contents.

3.   Comprehensive Analysis of Poverty and Inequality in Canada

Recognizing that poverty is not felt equally across all demographics in the country, this section provides the final piece of the poverty picture. Much of the poverty data in this section relies on the 2021 Canadian Census as it allows us to view disaggregated trends across a number of vulnerable groups.

Altogether, our report cards have 13 indicators, each weighted differently to provide an overall grade for the jurisdiction. These grades are determined using a baseline that Food Banks Canada developed in 2023 based on the provincial averages of these indicators (see methodology). Through this structured approach, our report aims to provide policymakers, stakeholders, and the public with valuable insights into the state of poverty in Canada, facilitating informed decision-making and targeted interventions to address this critical issue.

Our Commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)

Food Banks Canada is deeply committed to respecting the principles of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in all we do. As part of our ongoing efforts to develop inclusive environments, our team used an EDI framework to guide us throughout the development of this report.

We recognized the importance of incorporating diverse perspectives from the earliest stages of conceptualization to ensure that our work considered and reflected a robust range of viewpoints.

Before the report was first introduced in 2023, we conducted early consultations with experts — both professionals and people with lived experience — from across the country, actively seeking the participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds and with a range of lived experiences. These consultations provided direction for our team on much of the process and design of the report, including data collection and policy development. In 2024, we continue to make adaptations to this living report through in-depth reviews of our website, design, and content.

All the poverty-based analysis in this report includes a cross-analysis of intersectional demographics. In our own survey that forms part of this report, we disaggregate our findings to identify how racialized people in Canada experience poverty and struggle differently than the rest of the population. In 2024, we also included phone interviews in the territories to better capture the unique experience of isolated low-income communities. Where our survey could not provide data on the experience of marginalized communities, we sought outside resources to fill gaps and effectively provide an inequality analysis for all 14 government levels.

The final report also underwent a third-party EDI analysis to ensure maximum representation and inclusivity.

As we move forward, Food Banks Canada remains committed to learning and to improving our approach to better include and represent all the members of our diverse community. We will continue to seek new and better ways to embrace EDI principles in our reports and all the work we do. Our vision is a Canada where no one goes hungry. This vision is inclusive of every person within our borders, irrespective of race, national or ethnic origin, language, citizenship, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, income source, age, or mental and/or physical ability.

To see our analysis of poverty and inequality in Canada, click here.