Comité consultatif de lutte
contre la pauvreté et l'exclusion sociale

Online Bulletin no. 28 – August 2019
ISSN 2371-4069 (Online)

Prejudice: a major obstacle in the fight against poverty and social exclusion


The issue of prejudice against people living in poverty, and particularly those who receive social assistance, remains unresolved, even though such prejudice has long been denounced by many groups and organizations. The discussion paper on this subject published by Centraide [Un préjugé, c’est coller une étiquette / Prejudice is labelling.] rightly stated: "The fight against poverty stops where prejudice begins." Overcoming this prejudice requires a change in the mentality of those who judge people living in poverty, to be achieved through the delivery of accurate fact-based information and raising awareness of the living conditions of the poor.


Hurtful prejudices

Preconceived judgments consist in making an uninformed judgment, generalizing certain characteristics and rendering a verdict without having examined the actual situation. Prejudices cause people living in poverty great harm, with prejudice toward social assistance beneficiaries being among the most prevalent and most pernicious. Comments are often made to the effect that these beneficiaries take advantage of the system, that they cost society dearly, that they do not know how to properly manage their budget and that if they receive too much financial support, they will not want to go to work. However, it is unlikely that many people know the amount of the basic social assistance benefit: for a single person with no employment limitations: it is $644 per month. With so little, it is difficult to balance one's budget, even if the few tax credits available to beneficiaries, namely, the solidarity tax credit and the goods and services tax credit, are added.

The prejudices and social exclusion experienced daily by our most vulnerable fellow citizens frequently stem from a lack of knowledge and understanding of realities. Judgments are made without any idea of the paths these individuals' lives have taken; we adopt a negative attitude or are predisposed to acting negatively toward this group, or toward members of this group, all because of mistaken and rigid generalizations.1

Prejudices prevent these individuals from being recognized as full citizens, with all the rights that entails. And such prejudices theoretically place the blame on the most vulnerable people for difficulties that are in fact social problems and not individual problems. The result is a denial of rights and an impediment to lifting oneself out of poverty.

Preventing prejudice: a collective responsibility

The Comité consultatif de lutte contre la pauvreté et l’exclusion sociale remains committed to focusing all of its efforts on the fight against prejudice and the strengthening of solidarity between the mainstream population and people whose lives are affected by poverty and social exclusion. It has repeatedly expressed its desire for the Gouvernement du Québec to take action to counter prejudice. In particular, in one of its advisory opinions, it proposed actions to prevent persistent poverty among certain at-risk groups:

  • All citizens must change the way they look at people whose lives are impacted by poverty and develop a better understanding of their lived experiences. This requires dedicating significant information and awareness-raising efforts to the fight against prejudices that most often are tied to a lack of knowledge of the reality of people living in poverty and the circumstances that took them there.
  • The media has a social responsibility and a critical role to play in the fight against prejudice. In the context of heightened social tensions and a certain intolerance, the media need to thoughtfully examine how they can better assume this responsibility.

In its work to fight prejudice against people living in poverty, the Comité forges alliances to implement actions aimed at enhancing awareness of these individuals' different realities.

Better understand the elements of prejudice and the mechanisms that reinforce it

One of the goals of the Act to combat poverty and social exclusion is "to promote respect for and protection of the dignity of persons living in poverty and combat prejudices in their regard".2

In the Government Action Plan to Foster Economic Inclusion and Social Participation 2017-2023, it states that "the prejudices faced by people in situations of poverty, including those who receive last-resort financial assistance, have the effect of raising barriers between them and the rest of society. Consequently, the government is also taking action to fight these prejudices,"3 specifically, through Measure 18 of the action plan. It reads: Break the barriers of prejudice to encourage full social participation. The Comité optimistically welcomes the announcement of this measure.

As noted in the government action plan, "Prejudice can have a real impact on life trajectories, socio-professional integration and self-esteem. However, knowledge about the prejudices facing these segments of the population and how they change over time remains limited."4 The government thus wishes "to start by acquiring a better understanding of the factors and mechanisms that reinforce prejudices faced by people in situations of poverty and social exclusion, and last-resort financial assistance beneficiaries in particular."5

It was in this context that the Centre d’étude sur la pauvreté et l’exclusion (CEPE) was entrusted with a mandate: "The goal is to propose indicators that can be used to track the evolution of prejudice over time and identify the mechanisms of exclusion. People in situations of poverty and social exclusion will play a role in this process in order to achieve a better understanding of the obstacles they face."6 This work aims to inform future discussions on how to combat prejudice more effectively.

Take effective action against prejudice

The Comité believes that it is important to address all segments of civil society that may convey prejudices, in particular, the media and some housing owners. State institutions and organizations should also be examined, especially public services whose operations all too often have helped maintain or foster prejudice. For example, the discourse on work incentives is based on prejudice, and the associated control measures are part of it. This discourse may suggest that many beneficiaries are reluctant to enter the labour market and should be strongly encouraged to do so. However, the real barriers being faced by them and the efforts they make are not always taken into account.

The Comité views this analytical approach to better understanding and measuring prejudices as an assured means of laying the groundwork. In this sense, it is a first step, one that must be followed by strategies for effective action on all causes of prejudice, going beyond simple awareness. Within civil society, actions holding promise are already taking place. For example, the regional mobilization Ensemble pour agir sur les préjugés involves a group of partners from the Capitale-Nationale region. They are directly addressing causes through various actions with future workers who are currently training, particularly in the fields of pharmacy, medicine and police techniques, in order to undo or debunk prejudices.

A qualitative study based on one-on-one interviews conducted in the summer of 2013 on behalf of the Comité concluded that the next steps must be to undertake five major projects to achieve a poverty-free Québec, a fairer Québec society through diversity. The objective of the first of these projects is to confront prejudices and maintain the fight against poverty through citizen action, mobilization and awareness-raising.7

With less poverty, all of us stand to gain immeasurably.

  1. CENTRE INTÉGRÉ UNIVERSITAIRE DE SANTÉ ET DE SERVICES SOCIAUX (CIUSSS) DE LA CAPITALE-NATIONALE, « Les préjugés à l’égard des personnes en situation de pauvreté et d’exclusion sociale : rapport de documentation », Direction de la santé publique, 2017.
  2. CQLR, chapter L-7, section 6. 
  3. GOUVERNEMENT DU QUÉBEC, « Government Action Plan to Foster Economic Inclusion and Social Participation: A Basic Income for a Fairer Society », ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale, 2017, p. 48.
  4. Ibid., p. 57.
  5. Loc. cit.
  6. Loc. cit.
  7. Vivian Labrie, « Tendre vers un Québec sans pauvreté après 2013 : rapport synthèse. Bilan du chemin parcouru et à parcourir en lien avec l’adoption de la Loi visant à lutter contre la pauvreté et l’exclusion sociale à partir de 16 entrevues effectuées au cours de l’été 2013 », 2014.