Take a Stand to Eliminate Poverty 

We found a recent editorial in the Herald about the current food situation in Canada. In the editorial the vice president for Canada Without Poverty, Sharon Murphy, addresses how certain policies can keep people living in poverty.  The author also discusses the increase in Food Bank users in the past year.  The article ties into our work at the research center on food costing.  The PARTC-FS is conducting food costing across the province to look at what it costs to eat a basic nutritious diet. In previous years the research from food costing has shown how many people are unable to afford the cost of a basic diet.

 If you are interested in finding out more check out the full article here!

Stand up, speak out against poverty

Wed. May 19 – 8:28 AM

Late last fall, the Canadian Association of Food Banks’ Hunger Count Report revealed the heartbreaking statistics that 794,738 people had turned to food banks in March of 2009, an increase of 18 per cent over the same month in 2008. In Nova Scotia, 20,344 individuals were assisted by food banks in March 2009, up 20 per cent over the previous year. Across Canada, 72,000 people used the food bank for the first time in March 2009.

It is revealing that, according to the Hunger Count Report, one-fifth of people using food banks in Canada are in the labour force and still can’t make ends meet. In fact, working families account for 40 per cent of people living on low incomes in Canada. Nationally, food bank usage was found to be at the same level as it had been a decade earlier, and 87 per cent of people who visited food banks in 2009 were reported to live in rental accommodations. Does this mean people are forced to cut down on food to pay the rent?

Not long after the food bank report was released, I attended a screening of the film Four Feet Up by the National Film Board. One thing that stood out was the need to stop the Band-Aid approach to poverty and to replace it with a holistic approach, with everybody working on a united front to deal with the systemic causes of poverty. The most poignant moment of the film was when a family social worker said, “When you’re worried about feeding your children, preventive care isn’t an option; crisis management is all you can do.”

A friend recently said government policies create poverty and only government policy can end poverty. Something that has concerned me is the disincentive built into our social assistance program, specifically the policy concerning the recipient who tries to help himself by taking a job while on social assistance. An amount equal to seventy per cent of the income earned is clawed back under the Employment Security Income Assistance program. Think about what this does to your initiative and self-esteem.

Last December, the Senate subcommittee on cities released its report, In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. The committee’s job was to determine how government, business and the volunteer sector were able to help people escape poverty. It found that decades of social policy have had devastating effects: When all the programs are working and an individual gets all possible income and social supports, the resulting income often still maintains people in poverty.

At their worst, the existing policies and programs entrap people in poverty, and make it virtually impossible for too many people to escape reliance on income security programs, even homeless shelters.

There has been a lot of evidence that the gap between the rich and poor has been increasing over the past two decades (see the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website www.policyalternatives.ca/projects/growing-gap). According to a 2007 Statistics Canada report, the richest 20 per cent of our population enjoyed an average $5,500 income increase in 2007 over the previous year’s market income, while the poorest 20 per cent saw an increase of $300. Middle-income Canadians’ market incomes rose by an average of $900 in the same time period.

It is shameful to note, from various sources, that Canada has the 19th highest rate of poverty among 29 developed economies.

There is some good news. Last November, Parliament made a commitment to a national plan for the elimination of poverty. This plan should be grounded in a human-rights perspective. Freedom from poverty is enshrined as a human right in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Article 7, which calls for security of the person.

What can you do to encourage progress? Call your MLA or MP and let them know you are concerned. Sign on to the Dignity For All campaign at dignityforall.ca. You can join local organizations and committees that are working to eliminate poverty. You can speak up when you hear someone make negative comments or express judgmental attitudes about the poor. You can support community events dealing with poverty, for instance by attending a film like Four Feet Up.

If everyone sent a postcard to Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressing concern about poverty, do you think such an outpouring would be ignored? You may think you are a drop in the bucket, but if there are many drops in the bucket, people take notice. I close with Ghandi’s challenge, “Be the change you want in the world.”

‘If everyone sent a postcard to Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressing concern about poverty, do you think such an outpouring would be ignored?’

Sharon Murphy is vice-president, Canada Without Poverty.

To find out more about Sharon Murphy visit the Canada Without Poverty page Board of Directors.