Poverty is a political issue

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Pontiac Perspective
 Peter J. Gauthier

In the current federal election, much has been made of the middle class – however defined – but almost nothing has been promised, or even said, about the poor. Like the middle class, poverty does not have a clear definition to define

Pontiac Perspective
 Peter J. Gauthier

In the current federal election, much has been made of the middle class – however defined – but almost nothing has been promised, or even said, about the poor. Like the middle class, poverty does not have a clear definition to define
who is poor.Whatever the definition, we can generally accept that poverty refers to low income combined with “social exclusion” (adequate housing, essential goods and services, health and community participation).
The definition most often used is Statistics Canada’s definition of “low income”, which is those receiving one-half the median income of an equivalent household. Low-income Canadians include the “working poor” — those with jobs — and the “welfare poor” — those relying mainly on government assistance.  These definitions are used to compare countries. Sadly, Canada does not compare favourably. Using these definitions, about one in 9 Canadians are classified as poor, although the number is generally higher among certain groups such as single mothers and Aboriginals. In a study of 31 OECD counties, Canada placed 24th for child poverty (23 countries have less child poverty as a
percentage of total child population). 
Poverty has a major effect on our economy; it costs Canada between $72 billion and $84 billion annually.  This alone should be sufficient to make poverty a major political issue, but it’s not mentioned in any party’s platform. There are several reasons for this. First, the poor do not vote in significant numbers – children, no matter how dire their situation, do not have the right to vote and poor adults often lack education and understanding of the voting process. Second, many politicians act as though poverty was the choice of the individual and not a social or political issue. However, the more
fundamental issue is that politicians, because they do not see poverty as a major issue, have no solutions to the problem.
In our confederation, solutions to complex social problems, such
as poverty, require
cooperation and unified policies at the federal, provincial and community levels. The federal government must provide the policy framework and core finances and the provinces must support these with appropriate action in areas under their
jurisdiction (housing, infrastructure, education, health services, etc.). Real action should come from the community – a bottom-up approach that can address individual needs.
An improvement in the lives of the poor must address the following: sustenance – provision of basic needs; adaptation – developing basic skills needed in our complex world; engagement – allowing the
individual to become
an active agent in
the community; and
economic opportunity – employability and building of assets.
A society is often evaluated on how it treats minorities, and how Canada fails its poor is an indicator of our basic values that define this country. It
is imperative that our politicians understand this and make a serious effort at improving the lives of the poor.