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Fighting poverty, inequalities and social exclusion: Conference report

TitleFighting poverty, inequalities and social exclusion: Conference report
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsNoël, A.
Secondary TitleCRDCN Conference Report
Place PublishedMontréal, QC
Keywordsexclusion, inégalité, inequality, pauvreté, poverty

This report highlights the main lessons that emerged from the presentations at the international conference on "Social Statistics, Poverty and Social Exclusion: Perspective from Quebec, Canada and abroad" organized by the Quebec Interuniversity Centre for Social Statistics (QICSS) and Quebec's ministère de l'Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale (MESS) in Montreal in the fall 2011. The main objective of this conference was to take stock of the evidence and identify knowledge gaps in this field of research. The report reminds us that social phenomena are never simple to gauge and that measurement is rarely free of normative and political considerations. While there is no official measure of poverty in Canada, three distinct measures of low income produced by Statistics Canada are commonly used to that effect. Each measure has merits for certain purposes but also intrinsic limits. Caution is thus recommended when using them. Since no indicator is perfect, the report strongly suggests monitoring of a variety of indicators to obtain a more holistic, multidimensional understanding of poverty, inequality and social exclusion, as they now do in Europe for instance, where material deprivation and underemployment are considered in addition to low income. There is not one single technological or economic explanation that can account for varying poverty and low income rates across societies. Empirical evidence indicates that employment levels and the distribution of market income play a preponderant role in the evolution of poverty and low-income rates and that education always has a protective effect against poverty, but some groups do not seem to benefit as much from existing opportunities. Indeed, advantages and disadvantages are not distributed uniformly among different groups of the population, even at equivalent levels of education. In Canada, for instance, women, young people, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and recent immigrants are more likely to experience poverty. Children who grow up in poverty also have more chances of becoming impoverished adults. Much of the research on poverty and inequalities focuses on individual determinants of low income, such as family history, education and access to the labour market. As relevant as these factors may be, the report argues that they cannot explain why, at roughly equal wealth, some societies are characterized by more poverty and inequality than others. Individual characteristics tend to hide the role played by institutions and public policies. Yet public policies have a crucial role to play to correct the non-egalitarian effects of the market. The different outcomes of families across Canadian provinces examined in several presentations throughout the conference are an obvious result of distinct public-policy choices. Comparative analysis makes it possible to establish the effects of these different choices. The report recommends that governments adopt action plans with explicit and measurable objectives to combat poverty. Such action plans have the advantage of setting a direction and fostering the mobilization of all social actors. When they announce tangible objectives, governments accept a challenge and force themselves to change their habitual ways of conducting policy. These plans should also identify the political and institutional changes required to attain the established priorities and establish information and reporting mechanisms to guarantee the transparency and democratic vigilance necessary to attain the stated objectives. Because it is a unique event, by far the most important moment of the year in the public policy universe, the report suggests that the budget speech be used each year to take stock of poverty and inequalities.

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