That’s according to a new report released Tuesday by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), a voluntary professional organization and “national voice of Canadian physicians.”
CMA compiled the report, titled What Makes us Sick, after conducting six town-hall meetings and an online consultation. Canadians told CMA that poverty is the biggest barrier to good health.
“What Canadians told us is that poverty is the recurring theme that underpins most of these social determinants of health,” said CMA President Anna Reid in a press release.
The national dialogue was part of the CMA’s ongoing efforts in advocating for Health Care Transformation, a broad-ranging initiative to modernize and improve Canada’s health care system. The town halls took place in Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Montreal, Charlottetown and St. John’s.
The report examined some of the factors outside the health care system which affect Canadians’ health, including, lack of access to healthy food, homelessness, inadequate income, poor housing and early childhood development.
“We listened to Canadians and what we heard was that they want sincere, legitimate and real action,” said Reid, who is making tackling poverty the focus of her mandate as CMA president. ”As a country we can do better in tackling issues around poverty, housing, early childhood development, food security and culture that can hinder a person’s chances to be healthy. There is no one sector responsible for making this happen. It has to be a joint effort, involving health care providers, governments, patients and Canadians from all backgrounds.”
The Winnipeg town hall focused on Aboriginal poverty and health. CMA heard that “poverty and education for Aboriginal peoples, whose health outcomes fall far short compared to the rest of the Canadian population.”
CMA introduced a summary of the report a news conference at Ottawa’s Centretown Community Health Centre on Tuesday.
A few stats from MakePovertyHistory.ca:
- more than 3.5 million Canadian live in poverty. In fact, poverty is increasing for youth, workers, young families and immigrants and people of colour in this country. Poverty in Aboriginal groups remains appallingly high, both on and off reserve
- one in ten children is poor
- Canada’s child poverty rate of 15 percent is three times as high as the rates of Sweden, Norway or Finland.
- every month, 770,000 people in Canada use food banks. Forty percent of those relying on food banks are children. These statistics point to a betrayal of Canada’s children.
“I think if we could eliminate childhood poverty we would go a long way to achieving a healthier population,” said Reid. ”Canada is a prosperous country and can do better.”
Last October, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May suggested introducing a guaranteed livable income as a strategy to make poverty in Canada.
The CMA report lists a “guaranteed annual income” among its 12 recommendations:
Recommendation 1: That the federal, provincial and territorial governments give top priority to developing an action plan to eliminate poverty in Canada.
Recommendation 2: That the guaranteed annual income approach to alleviating poverty be evaluated and tested through a major pilot project funded by the federal government.
Recommendation 3: That the federal, provincial and territorial governments develop strategies to ensure access to affordable housing for low-and middle-income Canadians.
Recommendation 4: That the “Housing First” approach developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada to provide housing for people with chronic conditions causing homelessness should be continued and expanded to all Canadian jurisdictions.
Recommendation 5: That a national food security program be established to ensure equitable access to safe and nutritious food for all Canadians regardless of neighbourhood or income.
Recommendation 6: That investments in early childhood development including education programs and parental supports be a priority for all levels of government.
Recommendation 7: That governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial–territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
Recommendation 8: That the federal government recognize the importance of the social and economic determinants of health to the health of Canadians and the demands on the health care system.
Recommendation 9: That the federal government require a health impact assessment as part of Cabinet decision-making process.
Recommendation 10: That local databases of community services and programs (health and social) be developed and provided to health care professionals, and where possible, targeted guides be developed for the health care sector.
Recommendation 11: That the federal government put in place a comprehensive strategy and associated investments for improving the health of Aboriginal people that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, universities and Aboriginal communities.
Recommendation 12: That educational initiatives in crosscultural awareness of Aboriginal health issues be developed for the Canadian population, particularly for health care providers.