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The Poor | Personal Responsibility and Blame are Key Themes

The Poor | Personal Responsibility and Blame are Key Themes
Reason for being poor and rich

The Angus Reid Institute recently released polling results on poverty in Canada which provide a startling view of poverty. Despite the fact that many of Canada’s poorest people are not able to complete online surveys, the Institute found that 16% of Canadians are struggling and another 11% are on the edge.

Many Canadians are aware of the difficulties that people in their community are having. They also recognize that these difficulties are often due to circumstances beyond their control. But many Canadians feel insecure themselves so there may be little on-going support for doing more for the poor in Canada.

Extent of the Problem

It is striking that 52% of Canadians think the number of people living in poverty has been increasing. Given that Canada is not in a recession, such an assessment reflects a deep concern about the economic fortunes of Canadians. Some of this concern is related to the fact that so many Canadians know people in their circle who are poor.

Poverty is Getting Worse

Only one in three Canadians see themselves as belonging to the “haves.” in fact, the “haves” and “have-nots” are almost equal size given the high percentage who were not willing to self-identify. When we move to a question of whether they have enough money to live at an acceptable standard of living for Canada more than one in three say no (University educated Canadians are more likely to say they have enough money (73%). So the “have-not” self-identification is similar to the group that says they don’t have enough to meet the Canadian standard.

Even if this overstates the true state of the problem, it clearly should colour, to some extent, how people see the problem and the potential solutions.

It is the poor’s fault they are poor | A minority opinion

It is fair to say that Canadians generally acknowledge the role that circumstance rather than individual action has on whether a person is poor or rich. There are people (28% of Canadians) who think being poor is an individual failing (of effort) rather than being a product of circumstances but the majority think it is beyond their control. Similiarly, a majority think that people are rich because they had advantages other people did not have.

Note, however, that the percentage that blame the poor themselves (28%) is lower than the percentage who credit the rich for their effort (35%). The gap is not large, but it is indicative of a tendency to think of success as earned.

Reason for being poor and rich

There are clear political divisions consistent with a right-left ideological divide. Conservative voters are much more likely to blame the poor and to give the credit to the rich for their success. Liberal voters differ. They are slightly more likely than NDP voters to credit the rich but have the same view of why people are poor.

Preferred Approach

We may not blame individuals for being poor, but many of us would prefer an approach that rewards hard work and initiative. Half (52%) want more public support and this his higher among younger people, Liberal and NDP voters.

Seven in ten think that it is not the fault of a person who is poor, but many of these people think the emphasis should be on a system that rewards effort. [Unfortunately from the public release, it is not possible to look at how attitudes relate to each other.]


Poverty is not a small problem. In fact, Canadians think it is getting worse. But the perception of it getting worse combined with the sizeable group of Canadians who feel like they don’t have enough income to meet the Canadian standard creates an interesting dynamic.

Most think it is not the poor’s fault they are poor but half of Canadians think that the poor have to take some responsibility for getting out of poverty. We are not particularly generous despite our unwillingness (at least most Canadians) to blame the poor. It is worth wondering if the personal insecurities of Canadians are influencing the solutions Canadians would prefer.

Notably, the Angus Reid Institute included a question on the Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) which received majority support (59%).  GAI takes blame off the table so the willingness to support it is interesting.

Source: Angus Reid Institute online survey conducted between May 28 and June 13, 2018 (n=2542). Report