Poverty is a multifaceted concept which often includes social and economic elements. People living in poverty commonly lack the basic needs of survival such as food, healthcare, clean water, education and shelter due to the inability to afford them. Poverty is commonly defined in two types: absolute poverty and relative poverty. Absolute poverty occurs when individuals are lacking the minimum basic requirements necessary for physical survival over an extended period of time (Akindola, 2009). It is harmful and can endanger individuals’ life as they are not meeting the basic requirement for survival. Whereas relative poverty occurs when individuals lack the minimum amount of income needed to maintain the average standard of living generally considered normal or acceptable in the culture or community in which they live (Akindola, 2009). Absolute poverty is measured by subsistence below a minimum socially acceptable living condition while relative poverty is measured by judgement by members of their society as to what is considered reasonable and an acceptable standard of living (Akindola, 2009). Therefore, relative poverty changes over time and differs across countries and communities (Akindola, 2009).
There is no one cause of poverty as various causes and the results are different in every case due to differing situations. Causes such as poor wages, unemployment, lack of education, a decrease in Low-Income Housing Projects and deinstitutionalization of those with mental health issues all contribute to poverty (Akindola, 2009). The Canadian Government can aid in reducing poverty by building more low-income houses to ensure that all Canadians have adequate housing. On January 1st, 2018, the Ontario Government implemented an increase in minimum wage to $14 per hour with hopes to increase it again by 2019 to $15. The increase in minimum wage is anticipated to decrease the level of poverty in Ontario (Elliot, 2018). Moreover, creating additional Outreach Services will aid with the mental health of those living in poverty. The Canadian government does provide some services which aid to relieve some stress for people living in poverty, services such as the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) (Canada, 2016), Disability Benefits and Canadian Child Benefit (CCB) (Canada, 2018). The CPP Disability Benefit is a great program as it helps Canadians who have disabilities and are unable to work by providing them with monthly payments. However, the Canadian government has strict policies in order to qualify, such as having contributed to the CPP before the disability (Canada, 2016). The CCB provides tax-free monthly payments to families with children under 18 to guarantee their children were being fed (Canada, 2018). In order to help Canadians living in poverty, the government should take action and ease the policies as many vulnerable Canadians are being rejected at the initial application stage.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (World Health Organization, 1948). Mental health affects how individuals think, feel and act. It helps determine how one copes with normal stresses of life, how they relate to others and make choices for themselves or their community. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood (Jessiman-Perreault & McIntyre, 2017). According to Erin Russell and Kristen Patrick (2018), 20% of Canadians will experience a period of poor mental health. Mental illness can reduce a person’s ability to function effectively over a prolonged period of time due to significant levels of distress, changes in mood, behaviour or thoughts and feelings of isolation, sadness or fear (Jessiman-Perreault & McIntyre, 2017). People with serious mental illness face many barriers over their lifetime due to stigma and discrimination. Mental illness precludes individuals from obtaining adequate education and employment. Therefore, poverty and health are indistinguishably intertwined resulting in increased dangers to health. The stigma associated with mental illness often prevents individuals from seeking community services and support. Gaps in services and/or challenges in system navigation also affect individuals from seeking support (Russell & Patrick, 2018). Mental health services in Canada are challenging due to the long waitlists for covered services, and the costs of non-covered services are high.
The Canadian government has implemented many programs which aid with physical health, however, lacks programs for mental health (Russell & Patrick, 2018). Medicare, Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system, ensures that all Canadians have access to hospitals and physician services (Canada, 2016). In Canada, the responsibility for health care is dispersed to the provinces, therefore, every province has different policies regarding healthcare (Laberge, Wodchis, Barnsley & Laporte, 2017). In Ontario, citizens are covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) which covers visits to doctors, hospital stays, optometry until the age of 20, podiatry and medical tests and surgeries (Laberge, Wodchis, Barnsley & Laporte, 2017). On January 1st, 2018, the Ontario Government introduced OHIP+ which is intended to help youth under the age of 24 with prescription medication. OHIP+ currently covers epinephrine auto-injectors, antibiotics to treat infection, inhalers for asthma, various insulins, oral diabetic medication and mental health medication (Tanner, 2017).
In addition, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) branches across Canada to provide services and supports to Canadians experiencing mental illness and their families. CMHA services are tailored to the needs and resources of the communities where they are based (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2014). Assertive Community Treatment (ACT teams) are professionals with clinical experience who work in the community helping individuals with mental illness to live independently and to achieve goals (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2012).
Furthermore, as mentioned previously poverty and education are linked because people living in poverty often have to stop going to school in order to work and help contribute to their families. This results in individuals missing many skills they need to further their career (Ferguson, Bovaird & Mueller, 2007). Family income influences educational outcomes. This is seen when children from low-income families enter school, as they often start at a disadvantage compared to peers who come from higher-income families. The incidence, depth, duration and timing of poverty all influence a child’s educational attainment, along with community characteristics and social networks (Ferguson, Bovaird & Mueller, 2007). A child’s home significantly impacts school readiness. Children from low-income families often do not receive the motivation and skills required to prepare them for school. In addition, conflicts arise alongside parental inconsistency, frequent changes of primary caregivers, lack of supervision and poor role modelling. Very often, the parents of these children also lack support (Ferguson, Bovaird & Mueller, 2007). According to H.Bruce Ferguson, S. Bovaird and M.P. Mueller (2007) children’s ability to succeed in reflected through their school readiness. Children living in poverty enter the education system at a disadvantage in terms of their early skills, behaviour and health. School readiness reflects a child’s ability to succeed both academically and socially in a school environment (Ferguson, Bovaird & Mueller, 2007).
Canada does not have a national office of education; therefore, each province has the authority to make its own laws regarding education (Woolfold, Winne, Perry, 2016). However, there is one national legislation for education in Canada – The Canadian Charter of Rights and Fre
edoms, which outlines the quality provisions that apply to education, “every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination […] based on race, national or ethnic religion, colour, sex or mental or physical health” (Woolfold, Winne, Perry, 2016). Canada helps families in poverty by proving free compulsory education for children. However, more programs are needed to further assist children and families with their education. Many children are not getting proper nutrition. Therefore, the government should legislate health breakfast programs where children are able to receive a meal before class. Canada is the only developed country without a national school meal program (Bronson & Mcnicoll, 2017). Breakfast is the most important meal of the day as it provides important daily nutrients and helps with school performance. Students in Ottawa, Ontario, are given nutritious breakfast daily by the Ottawa School Breakfast Program funded by parents in the community which helps improve school performance (Bronson & Mcnicoll, 2017). If a student is hungry, they will not focus on learning, therefore, the breakfast program will not only improve children’s health but also their motivation for school.
Poverty is a prevalent problem that requires direct and immediate attention from the government. Although there are many policies set in place to help improve the lives and security of those living in poverty, further steps need to be taken. This can be done through improving health care access, ensuring that all schools have the knowledge and resources required to influence a valuable learning experience for all children, and improving poverty organizations to create more access to everyone in need. Everyone deserves an equal chance at life, and implementing better services for those living in poverty will cause great improvements in the quality of individuals’ lives.
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