Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If you're a single man, go whistle

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Statistics Canada says one in three single men live in poverty. At the same time, one in five single women live in poverty. These are sobering revelations. Traditionally, single men have been viewed as living easy, harbouring few responsibilities, living mostly for themselves.

So single men have been overlooked when it comes to social programs. And they are seldom taken into account in studies on poverty. Yet Statistics Canada says they are far worse off than single women. The spotlight on poverty has all too frequently put single men in the shadows.

Government and community-based programs have been generous in assisting single women and moms back on their feet. Improving the lives of single women has seen steady gains in the last 15 years -- even during times of overall economic decline, according to StatsCan.

But single men living in poverty are largely ignored by Canadians, government and social assistance programs, say experts. And their numbers are climbing.

A recent Canadian Press report profiled single mom Ginny Witkowski of Winnipeg, who broke the shackles of poverty and went on to become a great success story.

Witkowski is a determined person and through perseverance, she weathered unimaginable storms.

But she is quick to point out that part of her success was the result of government programs specifically designed for women, and offering generous funding and compassion.

Witkowski now points out that she is concerned that so many single men are faring so poorly.

"Running back probably 10 years ago, they started to develop programs for women but they just assume men can take care of themselves," she said. "So that was kind of overlooked."

Toronto-based social scientist John Stapleton agrees that single men have been left in the shadows.

Stapleton noted that social services tend to ignore single men. "They just don't get anything. They don't get supports."

Most benefits single men can collect are "small boutique tax credits" or welfare payments that prevent them from building up assets for another chance at life, said Stapleton.

The best programs for single women help them to establish new lifestyles, encouraging them to get back on track.

Witkowski, for example, was overwhelmed with the availability of programs, encouragement and financial aid from government programs set up for women to help them regain financial security and dignity.

The StatsCan report suggests that it's time for society and governments to rethink their agendas on dealing with poverty. Affording a person a life of dignity, compassion and assistance must be void of gender barriers.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2011 A15

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