New study reveals severity of COVID-19 impact to poverty in Calgary
by Riggs Zyrille Vergara, Publishing Editor
In partnership with the University of Calgary, Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC) has released a study reporting that low-income Calgarians have experienced deterioration in physical and mental health, increased financial struggle, increased racism and food insecurity due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
The report called Understanding the Impact of COVID-19: Addressing Structural Barriers that are Widening Inequities and Exacerbating Vulnerability studied more than 180 Calgarians with 76% of it belonging below Canada’s poverty line. It aimed to understand how low-income Calgarians coped with the current pandemic.
“Even with financial supports like CERB, it’s clear that many Calgarians have fallen through the cracks. Hearing the stories from the people involved with the study were heartbreaking and it’s clear that as we begin the process of rebuilding post-pandemic that these voices are heard and drive the systemic change that we all know is possible.”, said Meaghon Reid, executive director of VCC.
Around 80% reported having worse mental health compared to when the pandemic started. Meanwhile, the physical health of 70% of the respondents also got worse, with pre-existing health conditions exacerbated by difficult access for support as one of the causes.
“I’m third stage cancer and autoimmune gastroparesis asthma. Just no help for me. I’m kinda on my own, meds cost too much for me to afford.”, one of the study’s respondents said.
Increased financial problems is another trend the study has seen. Almost 50% of the studied Calgarians reported being between two weeks to ten months behind their bills. New purchases like masks, hand sanitizers and disinfecting products added to the list of expenses by households. In turn, many of them had the problem of choosing to pay only some of their expenses over others. A lot reported reducing their insurance, turning down their heat and turning off lights to try reducing these expenses.
Unemployment also increased after COVID-19. More than 60% are currently not working and 34% have jobs. This is lower compared to the 40% who were working prior to COVID-19. More than half of the respondents also reported having struggles paying for essential expenses such as rent or mortgage, food, household bills, school fees and transportation when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Food and household bills take the top spot of the list expenses being difficult to pay for with 71% of the respondents struggling to pay for it.
“About halfway through COVID, I’ve run out of ways to juggle the bills and pay all the higher prices. I’m [disabled] so I have to pay people to help me. Before COVID my neighbours would help me, now everyone wants money…”, another one of the respondents said in the study.
However, 86% had also reported changing how they spend their money at the onset of COVID-19. Most reported being more mindful and careful with their finances by doing things such as not dining out, buying less luxury items and non-essential items.
Food insecurity is another problem arising among low-income individuals from Calgary. With other expenses such as utilities and rent being harder to pay for, food becomes the last item to purchase as it’s more flexible than deadline-driven bills. This also meant increased dependency on the food bank, eating smaller meals and gaining huge amounts of debt from credit cards used in online food orders.
“I have spent weeks on one meal a day which has left me tired and lying-in bed.”, a particular Calgarian responded in the study.
Almost half reported increased discrimination and stigma related to their social standing and ethnicity. Many of the participating Calgarians reported unfairness in the enforcement of pandemic regulations such as wearing masks and social distancing. A lot have also reported feeling unsafe because of their social standing.
“In the beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty, isolation, disconnection. As we moved forward, some of us found some ways to cope to help us, but then we got hit again with a second pandemic about racial injustice. It was like a trauma response, the things that fueled it were things like murder. That hit me really hard.”
“I personally felt like people blamed me because of the colour of my skin…I have not felt safe for a very long time.”
These are some of the statements from the respondents who were discriminated against.
The results of the study were found to be supportive of other studies from other cities that show COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to the increasing health and social inequalities through its multiple impacts on racialized and low-income people.