May 28, 2003
Back to Main News Releases Page
The introduction this week of the Market Basket Measure (MBM), a new low income measurement tool, by Human Resources and Development Canada could pose a challenge for the Alberta government when it comes to the social-assistance and minimum-wage rates in this province.
The challenge comes not from interest groups but from the governments own musings in the past about how the MBM will be used once it has been fully developed. The government has said that Alberta leads the country in beginning to use the Market Basket Measure to report on how well Alberta is progressing in dealing with those in poverty. Government documents say further that the MBM will be used as an indicator of the number of Albertans possibly in need of government support, and as a measure of our success in reducing child poverty.
Well, the MBM is now here with updated data for the year 2000. We now have the tool and the data the Alberta government has said it will use, a tool which measures exactly what it costs to buy basic necessities including food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other household goods and services. According to the new Market Basket Measure tabulations, a family of four in Edmonton will need $23,571 annually (after taxes and child-care) to pay for that basket of necessities; in Calgary theyll need $24,180.
Compare the MBM figures to what low income Albertans are making these days. Recent Statistics Canada income figures show the bottom 10% of Edmonton households make an average of only $11,900; the bottom 10% of Calgary households make an average of $13,000. Or compare the MBM to what a family of four on social assistance receives in Alberta today: $15,060 annually, or $15,300 annually as of June 1st. Or compare the MBM to what a family with one wage earner being paid minimum wage grosses in a year: $11,505.
Comparing the Market Basket Measure to the reality faced by many low income Albertans makes apparent what even the governments own Low Income Review committee recognized recently: current benefit levels do not meet the needs of many Albertans who rely on income support.
The government has spoken of the MBM in the past as a fair, credible measure of poverty. The numbers speak for themselves. Income support levels in Alberta need to be raised in order for the province to meet its own commitment of using the MBM to ensure that Albertans who need support get it.
The Edmonton Social Planning Council wants to add its voice in welcoming the Market Basket Measure as an easy-to-use tool for measuring poverty. However we caution that the use of such an absolute measure has its downfalls. The MBM only measures the exact cost of a particular basket of goods and services, it does not measure how low income people are doing in comparison to the rest of society. Strict use of the MBM will in the end keep low income people at a minimalist, survival lifestyle.
The Market Basket Measure is a useful tool to help us better understand poverty in our community. But in the absence of the political will to resolve the underlying causes of poverty, low income families will be no further ahead. We need to keep before us the goal of equality, where all of us will be able to participate meaningfully in our economy and society, and not just survive.
Back to Main News Releases Page