POVERTY MATTERS: Health and poverty: A key determinant

The following blog post was first published as an article in InQuinte on May 4, 2018. Please find the original article here. 

Health and poverty: A key determinant

By Joseph Carin

Poverty directly harms the health of those with low incomes while income inequality affects the health of all Canadians.

According to Public Health Canada, poverty is the number one key determinant for health. It defines the social parameters and services that are available to individuals.

Without a sufficient income, individuals are unable to access the basic prerequisites for health as laid out by the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion which includes the basics such as access to shelter, education, food and income. Without these things, ones both physical and mental health are at risk.

Hastings County experiences higher rates of poverty than across the province. Statistics Canada, 2016 census shows that 16.3 per cent of residents are living in poverty.

Recently Belleville was singled out across the nation for the sixth highest rate of urban child poverty in the country, with 20.5 per cent of children under 18 living in poverty. The impact shows up in population health. Hastings Prince Edward Health Unit, Social Determinants of Health, 2017 report also notes Hastings County has higher rates of asthma, mood disorders and diabetes in comparison to the rest of Ontario.

Grandparents caring for their grandchildren can mean, for some, as older caregivers, that they are living in poverty, and living in poverty often means having to make difficult choices: food or rent, food or hydro, and skipping meals so children can eat.

Cangrands Vice President and Belleville local, Tami Downes, says that the toil poverty burdens individuals with is heavy.

Cangrands is a national organization supporting grandparents raising their grandchildren. Tami Downes is also a member of the Poverty Roundtable HPE Speakers Bureau and speaks to groups and facilitates discussions on the realities of local poverty.

“It’s like you are sentenced to live (in) this daily struggle,” Downes said recently at the roundtable Speakers Bureau on health impacts and poverty. “Your mental health and physical health both suffer. Sometimes the physical effects are compounded by the mental aspects. I have fibromyalgia which is greatly affected by the stress and diet options poverty brings”

Downes was born into poverty in North York in the ’60s. She travelled with her parents at an early age but moved to Belleville to live with her maternal grandmother at the age of 5 after her father left her family.

According to Downes, growing up in Belleville poverty was widespread but not a prevalent issue because of the commonality of it.

“If you came to school and you had a hole in your shoe, well so did 14 other kids in the class. It wasn’t as prevalent as it is now,” said Downes. “In my case I was born into poverty, married into working class poverty and later divorced with one child at home while working for eight dollars an hour to survive and provide. That weighs heavy on a woman.

“With housing costs what they are many parents, single folks, and seniors go without food for a day here and there to make their rent. Grandparents go without so they can make ends meet. It is a fine balance when you are living in poverty.”

The mental stress of living in poverty compounded with the rising costs of food and housing alongside the rise of unstable work, leaves little room for individuals to move towards stability, according to a recent community report on poverty by the Poverty Roundtable HPE.

Addressing poverty means addressing poor health. A healthy community is a community that ensures community members have sufficient incomes to meet cost of living.

Recent Public Health reports on the real cost of eating well in Hastings Prince Edward can be accessed here: The Real Cost of Eating Well 

As well as a report on the social determinants of health in Hastings Prince Edward.

Poverty Roundtable HPE community report, Leaning In

– Joseph Carin, Loyalist College Journalist Intern

65 Station St.
Belleville, ON K8N 2S6