Ontario Deprivation Index

Archived Backgrounder

Ontario Deprivation Index

Ministry of Children and Youth Services

A 'deprivation index' is a list of items or activities considered necessary to have an adequate standard of living, but those who are poor are unlikely to be able to afford.

The items in a deprivation index are not a comprehensive list of basic needs since in a wealthy society such as Ontario most households, even the poor, are likely to have most of the basic necessities. The items in the index are intended to distinguish the poor from the non-poor.

According to research, the items in Ontario's index are all widely seen by Ontarians as being necessary for a household to have a standard of living above the poverty level.

WHAT ITEMS ARE INCLUDED?

  • Do you eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day?
  • Are you able to get dental care if needed?
  • Do you eat meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent at least every other day?
  • Are you able to replace or repair broken or damaged appliances such as a vacuum or a toaster?
  • Do you have appropriate clothes for job interviews?
  • Are you able to get around your community, either by having a car or by taking the bus or an equivalent mode of transportation?
  • Are you able to have friends or family over for a meal at least once a month?
  • Is your house or apartment free of pests, such as cockroaches?
  • Are you able to buy some small gifts for family or friends at least once a year?
  • Do you have a hobby or leisure activity?      

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The Ontario Deprivation Index determines the percentage of Ontario children being raised in poverty. The measure identifies a child as having a poverty-level standard of living if at least two out of the 10 items in the Index are missing in the child's household because the family cannot afford them. This is consistent with deprivation indices used internationally, such as in Ireland.

WHAT PERCENTAGE OF CHILDREN ARE POOR ACCORDING TO THIS INDEX?

A survey conducted in March and April of 2009, found that 12.5 per cent of Ontario children were lacking two or more items. This percentage is similar to Statistics Canada's Low Income Measure, which Ontario is using to measure progress in meeting its 25 in 5 target. According to the Low Income Measure, 11.7 per cent of Ontario's children were living in poor families in 2007. 

For future years, data for the Deprivation Index will be collected through Statistics Canada's Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics. As with the income indicators, data will be available with an 18 to 24 month lag. Deprivation and income information for the year 2009 is expected to be released June 2011.

IMPORTANCE OF THE MEASURE

The Ontario Deprivation Index is unique in North America. Poverty reduction strategies in other countries, notably Ireland and the United Kingdom, use a deprivation index as a key component of their poverty measure. Deprivation indices have been used, or are being developed, elsewhere in the world, in Europe and Australia for example. The deprivation index is becoming a new standard in the measurement of poverty. However, although there has been discussion about developing one in Canada, no government has done so  until now. The deprivation index puts Ontario at the forefront of poverty measurement.

CANADA'S FIRST COMMUNITY-BASED POVERTY MEASURE

Ontario's deprivation index was developed through a unique partnership with the Ontario government, the Daily Bread Food Bank, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy and Statistics Canada.

Daily Bread Food Bank began the research process by testing a list of 29 items with people accessing food banks. Items included having access to the internet at home, having a telephone, having a warm winter coat, and being able to keep one's home or apartment adequately warm. Through surveys and focus groups, the list was narrowed down to 10 items that comprise the Ontario Deprivation Index.

An important part of the research was that people living in poverty were employed as researchers as part of this process. The measure is a direct reflection of their experience of poverty. The report, Developing a Deprivation Index: The Research Process, details how this initial list of 29 items was narrowed down to the 10 used in the Ontario deprivation index. The report is available at dailybread.ca and caledoninst.org.

The next stage of the process was that, under the sponsorship of the Ontario government, Statistics Canada completed a survey of approximately 10,000 households in Ontario using the deprivation index developed by Daily Bread and the Caledon Institute. The survey took place in March and April 2009, and was a supplement to Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey (LFS). From this data, the baseline measure was created.

WHAT DOES THE DEPRIVATION INDEX BRING TO POVERTY MEASUREMENT

Poverty has traditionally been measured by income. The deprivation index is a new tool that brings important new insights to poverty measurement by measuring the actual standard of living of the poor. It represents an advance in poverty measurement for a number of reasons:

  • Reflects the real life experiences of the poor;
  • Communicates a powerful and compelling picture of poverty to the public
  • Measures actual standard of living;
  • Captures dimensions of poverty that income does not, for example social isolation;
  • Reflects public perception of poverty and not arbitrary decisions made by experts;
  • Should reflect government investment in services and in-kind benefits i.e. If government invests in affordable housing, a reduction in deprivation should be seen;
  • Complements (but does not replace) existing income measures.

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