I see the effects of poverty everyday in my job as a health promoter at a Community Health Centre. Many of our clients live in deep poverty conditions, relying on social assistance, food banks, and meal programs to get by each month. They have little stability, living day to day, month to month in a vicious cycle of stress, food insecurity, precarious housing, social exclusion, stigma and more. Their quality of life is poor and their life expectancy is lower than those with higher incomes.
“High income does not guarantee good health, but low income almost inevitably ensures poor health and significant health inequity in Canada,” reports Dr. Ernie Lightman, lead researcher for the 2008 study Poverty is Making Us Sick. Also noted in the report is that the poorest one-fifth of Canadians, when compared to the richest twenty percent, have:
• more than double the rate of diabetes and heart disease
• a sixty percent greater rate of two or more chronic health conditions
• more than three times the rate of bronchitis
• nearly double the rate of arthritis or rheumatism
• 358% higher rate of disability
• 128% more mental and behavioural disorders
• 95% more ulcers
These numbers are staggering and clearly demonstrate that the need for sustained upstream investment in the social determinants or ‘root causes’ of health, such as affordable housing, childcare, and education, has never been greater. Health is so much more than health care.