Could you live on it Workshop Summary

(posted: September 17, 2016)

In the “Could you live on it” workshop, each participant assumed the identity of a person who was living on a low income and experienced how poverty felt from that perspective.  One situation was a mother who had been forced to leave her job due to illness and her children. Another was a family that was living on the income of a low wage job. Another was a mother and child living on an Ontario Works income.  There was also an older couple with no children at home living on an Ontario works income. All the participants had to go through a month of expenses and indignities of getting through on a limited income by shopping frugally and using community resources to improve their situation.

It was easy for people to empathise with the mother who had lost her job and suddenly had no income.  It was easy for people to see that a couple who had only $255 per month to live on after their rent was paid, were in a serious hardship situation.

It was much more difficult for people to understand that children growing up in a low income situation were seriously disadvantaged.  Certainly, programs like the Canada Child Benefit have alleviated the most severe deprivations of low income families.  There appears to be enough money for basic needs, especially when compared to the amounts that many Vincentians had to raise their children.  However, we need to remember that inflation over the last 20 years has been about 44% and so that amount of money doesn’t go as far as it used to do.  A bigger issue is the rise of inequality. Even though low income people who are 20% of the population have made some gains in standard of living, the other 80% have made much bigger gains. Children in higher income families have opportunities for participating in organized sports, cultural events, and travel.  They have expensive clothing and the newest electronic equipment.  Low income children get second hand clothes or fashion “knock-offs” which fool no-one.  Their electronic equipment is outdated.  The gap between high income families and low income families keeps growing. Low-income children exist on the margins of youth culture and that reality erodes their self esteem.  Consequently, they do much worse in school and in life.  This situation of inequality threatens the future of a generation of children growing up in poverty and if we don’t address it, it will diminish our future as a country.