The poverty rate fell sharply in Quebec at the onset of the pandemic

Government emergency financial assistance helped reduce the poverty rate by almost half in Quebec during the first year of the pandemic.

According to statistics released in late March, the proportion of Quebecers living below the poverty line fell from 8.9% in 2019 to 4.8% in 2020. All Canadian provinces saw a marked improvement that year. but not on the scale of what was seen in Quebec, which took the title of Alberta as the province with the lowest poverty rate.

This result is even more remarkable given that, at the same time, the economic crisis was increasing inequalities in market income, observed at the beginning of the week the political scientist of the University of Montreal Alain Noël in an article in the magazine . Political options. This means that this gain is attributable to the “exceptional redistributive effort” of governments.

Special thought is given to these “poorly targeted temporary programs” which were the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canadian Government’s Canadian Economic Recovery Benefit (PCRE). But probably not just because Quebec has done better than others, the expert noted.

In these statistics, the poverty rate corresponds to the proportion of the population living with a disposable income lower than the so-called measure of the consumer basket, which corresponds to the cost of a basket of goods and services that guarantees a level of modest basic life. . This poverty rate has been steadily declining in Quebec for at least five years, thanks in particular to the strength of the labor market and the introduction of a more generous child benefit benefit in Canada. But the pace of this decline accelerated sharply with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Spectacular”, but …

“I have never seen such a dramatic reduction in poverty! It makes you wonder if we shouldn’t want to have pandemics more often, “said Michel Fréchet, a sociology professor at Laval University and a speaker at a symposium on the effects of the pandemic on poverty in Montreal. the Quebec Inequalities Observatory. .

The gains have not been of the same magnitude for all groups in society, says the professor. While the poverty rate has fallen by more than half among households (from 5.2% to 1.9%) and those under the age of 18 (from 6.3% to 2.3%), progress has been proportionally twice as modest among single people (from 24.6% to 16.9%).

“All this, of course, can only be temporary. A flash in the pan that went out at the same time as the PCU and the PCRE. But this success will motivate governments to reconsider the generosity of the current benefits of the social security network. Michel Fréchet asks.

These data on the poverty rate, however, do not say everything about the effect the pandemic has had on the most modest Quebeckers, said Quebec Inequality Observatory researcher Sandy Torres during Friday’s symposium. “First of all, not everyone was eligible for CERB,” he noted.

In a survey conducted last summer between the lowest 40%, two-thirds of them reported mental health issues, personal finances or physical health, among others. These problems were especially common among 18-24 year olds, LGBTQ + communities, people with disabilities, and minorities. A third said they live in isolation.

“We are not all the same in the face of isolation,” said Julie Nicolas, head of research at the Community Action Observatory. It’s one thing to be trapped in your single-family home with a small garden. It is another to be in a 1½ without a balcony. »

In the field, 9 out of 10 community organizations reported an increase in the needs for psychological support and relationships, and more than two-thirds reported an increase in basic needs (food, housing, etc.). . The fact that governments, businesses, schools, and almost everyone else relied heavily on information technology during the pandemic has not helped families who did not have the right computer tools and services.

Sympathy deficit

It is not certain that the pandemic and the dramatic consequences of emergency financial assistance programs will convince the entire population to do more for the most disadvantaged from now on, said Professor Normand Landry, head of the Research Chair. in Media Education and Human Rights from TÉLUQ University.

Before the pandemic, only politicians gained less sympathy from the general public than people with well-being, he found in his research. During COVID-19, able-bodied social assistance recipients arrived at 11 p.m.i and the last rank of groups deserving of government aid, according to Quebecers, behind large corporations.

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