Poverty reduction needs action, not just resolutions

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Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

In 1989, the Canadian Parliament unanimously passed a resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.  In 1993, the United Nations declared that October 17 of each year should be designated as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  In the fall 2017 update, the federal government promised new spending on social programs to support children and the working poor. This included the intention to increase the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) by indexing it to the cost of living. What all these declarations indicate is that real poverty, including child poverty, continues to exist in Canada in 2018.
The latest statistics indicate that 13.9% of Canadians live in poverty; 13.1% for Quebec.  Further, 85% of those living in poverty are designated as persistent – that is, they are expected to remain in a state of poverty for at least the next five years. How does Canada compare with other advanced countries? The answer is rather poorly. Among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries ranked from lowest poverty rates to highest, Canada ranks 23rd. Not surprisingly, Denmark, Finland and Iceland are at the top of the list with poverty rates of 5 to 6 percent, less than half of Canada’s rate.
Who are the poor in Canada? The list is very much the same as it was in 1989. They include children, single-parent families, indigenous people, and senior citizens. Simply put – those at the margins of our society.   
The results of poverty are also well known. Poor health, inadequate housing, lack of education, lack of opportunities for improvement, and increased crime rates are among the most significant. And the financial cost to our economy is $80 billion per year. It should be obvious that reduced poverty will have significant economic benefits beyond the sense of worth and dignity to the individual, and yet Canadians are more concerned about a $5 billion pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast.
Canada needs a meaningful poverty reduction strategy and action, not just a parliamentary resolution. The well-being of people living in poverty must be central.  Clear targets and obtainable goals must be set and kept beyond an immediate election period. Income security, national housing strategies and education for the future are essential components – life-long learning must be central to our education
systems. Food security must be more than expanded food banks. Minimum wages need to be adequate to ensure reasonable living standards.  Our public health systems should include dental and prescription drug coverage. 
Poverty is not just a concern for a few social workers. The entire community must address it: government at all levels, public institutions, private businesses, and individual from all walks of life. Only then can Canada become a truly poverty-free county.