Social service agencies and charitable organizations use the long-form census data to target support where it’s needed the most.
The long-form census is a critical tool for ensuring important decisions that impact people’s day-to-day lives are based on solid data and sound reasoning. The recent decision to cancel this resource has sparked a growing fear among Canadians that we will lose our best tool for targeting community investment and measuring the outcomes of our efforts.
The wide variety of voices joining the call to save the census speaks for itself. Nearly every sector of our society values this data for some purpose. In the charitable sector, we depend on census data to help us provide the best possible support to the communities we serve – and ensure we make the right investments in the right areas.
Maximizing impact is important to today’s charities. Donors and other stakeholders demand increased sophistication and improved accountability for their charitable contributions. They want to know their investment not only meets current needs, but also anticipates emerging trends. It’s difficult to determine how best to allocate resources for building stronger communities without comprehensive statistics.
United Way Toronto is among the hundreds of social service agencies and charitable organizations across Canada that uses census data to ensure our support is targeted where it’s needed most. Census data helps guide our investment in meeting urgent needs through support for a network of front-line agencies that deliver vital programs and services. But it goes even further. It enables us to invest in long-term strategies for addressing systemic issues and improving social conditions.
The long-form census is the only reliable source of data for understanding who is affected by issues like poverty – their age and gender, their ethno-cultural background and other details that give us a precise understanding of those who are most vulnerable to economic inequality. Census data not only tells us who is affected by poverty, but where poverty is located in terms of geography. Perhaps most importantly, census data allows us to track this information over time, in order to assess trends and identify possible solutions.
One powerful example of how census data is used to guide community investment is United Way Toronto’s Building Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy – a place-based approach to improving social conditions in targeted neighbourhoods. This strategy was developed as a result of Poverty by Postal Code, a research report based on census data that we released in 2004. The report documented the growing geographic concentration of poverty in Toronto. Not only did it show the extent of poverty at a given point in time, it revealed that economic inequality was on the rise by comparing results from four consecutive censuses.
Today, as a result of this information, the priority neighbourhoods identified following the report are receiving focused attention and resources. Five years into the strategy, millions of dollars in community investment are being targeted where it’s needed most. This focus has led to successful partnerships with the City of Toronto, the Governments of Ontario and Canada, and the private sector. We know it takes time to move the needle on systemic issues like poverty, but the seeds of change are beginning to take root and we’re starting to see progress.
Losing the data collected through the long-form census at this key point in time will restrict our ability to respond to developing trends. Perhaps most importantly, it will impair our ability to measure the impact of our current efforts and change our course if necessary. Without census data, United Way Toronto – and scores of other charities across the country – will suffer a major setback in our efforts to improve lives and build stronger, healthier communities.