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Rebuild the safety net to fight poverty

Women’s Xchange panelists call for better measurement, policies

June 2016

Women’s Xchange panelistsCanada has the tools it needs to build a support system that works for women facing poverty, said panelists at a Women’s College Hospital event May 6.

The federal government has committed to developing a national anti-poverty strategy and Ontario is piloting a guaranteed basic income program. Initiatives like these can create real change with the right measurement and decisions, said panelists at Challenging Poverty: Measuring, Experiencing and Moving Beyond, hosted by the hospital’s health research knowledge translation and exchange centre, Women’s Xchange.

Speakers included women who have experienced poverty and experts discussing strategies to end it. They emphasized the need for more accurate, consistent measurement of poverty that correlates with health outcomes and takes issues such as social exclusion into account.

Those who experienced poverty said they struggled to navigate a complex system of supports from agencies that do not coordinate well. They described experiences of abuse, mental illness and stigma as they juggled child care and jobs, or subsisted on social assistance support that left them choosing between rent or food.

Sheila Regehr, chair of Basic Income Canada Network, said Canada needs a more cohesive support system that is less conditional on employment, particularly for women, who face more restrictions and do more unpaid work. “Women’s autonomy and control, generally, is limited by babies, bosses, boyfriends and bureaucrats,” Regehr said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for a well-designed basic income to be good policy that can make a positive contribution to gender equality, poverty reduction and human well-being.”

The event also covered programs that are making important steps forward providing women with support for housing, child care, education and jobs, including Woodgreen Community Services and Up with Women, which were represented on the panel.

Women’s Xchange events bring together a diverse group of students, trainees, policy-makers, academic and community women’s health researchers to share research, form collaborations and build capacity. The next Women’s Xchange event is scheduled for Nov. 2016.

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