Poverty is corrosive
By MARYANNE FIRTH
November 27 2008
Niagara residents were taught that local communities are guardians of poverty reduction.
About 60 people visited regional council chambers yesterday to learn how to put a plan in motion to reduce poverty in Ontario by 25 per cent over the next five years.
Social Planning Network of Ontario community co-ordinator Peter Clutterbuck and consultant Marvyn Novick made their stop in Thorold yesterday to discuss a blueprint for change and the importance communities have in that process.
Based on statistics and scenarios discussed during the meeting, social justice activists and their supporters have their work cut out for them.
There are nearly 1.3 million people living in poverty in Ontario, said Novick.
“Chronic poverty is corrosive and eats away at a healthy and inclusive Ontario.”
Ontario is also the child poverty centre of Canada, he said.
When the blueprint was written only months ago, 41 per cent of Ontario children in poverty were living with one parent working fulltime, all year. But the number has since risen to an alarming 45 per cent, he said.
There “isn’t any reason to justify working fulltime, full year and living in poverty,” Novick said.
Clutterbuck said he and Novick are in the midst of a 25-city tour, presenting their plan and gaining feedback from community members to see where changes may need to be made.
He said they hope to provide a “consensus” or “community-tested” document to the provincial government for consideration when completed.
Novick said the main reason poverty reduction is on the government’s agenda is that communities across Ontario stepped forward and got involved.
Premier Dalton McGuinty made a commitment in his first term to develop a poverty reduction strategy by the end of 2008. The plan is expected to be released within the next few weeks, including targets and indicators to be met.
Novick believes this commitment was made because communities were voicing their concerns on the issue.
The premier’s plan will be a foundation of the 25 in 5 Network – a group of organizations and individuals across the province committed to eliminating poverty.
The 25 in 5 target is “not an end, but a beginning,” said Novick. The goal is to evolve to a 50 per cent reduction rate in 10 years.
The biggest issue is that “poverty reduction has never been considered imperative,” he said.
“Imperatives are not choices, but something urgent that requires action.”
He called poverty reduction “easy to talk about and easy to delude about.”
“People always express concern,” he said, but unfortunately, there’s never a right time for action.
“We’re told we can’t invest in poverty reduction with good times or bad.”
To start, communities must change the common view about those struggling with poverty.
Novick said poverty is viewed as a reflection of personal failure.
The misconception is that people made bad choices and are morally or intellectually deficient because of their situation.
There is a “cold language” involved when talking about poverty that appears reasonable, he said. People use personal failure language, which “says ugly things with beautiful words.”
Dependency, passive and cycle of poverty, are some of the terms unfairly used to describe those stuck in the process, said Novick.
It’s assumed that for some people, social assistance is considered “a joy, it’s a free ride, something to aspire to,” he said. These types of words and the assumptions that surround them are “begging for evidence which is never submitted.”
These assumptions are presumed common sense, he said, and are therefore seen as not requiring evidence.
He said it’s time to stop the moral defamation people on social assistance or disability go through.
Change also needs to come from the government, because only structural change in the system can improve the living conditions facing families across the province.
The government should be modelling economic strategies after countries including Denmark, Finland and Sweden, he said. These countries “have low levels of poverty, strong public programs and strong public revenue.”
“High taxes are not good or bad, it’s what you do with them.”
The best way to deal with hard times is to improve the income of vulnerable families and adults, he said.
“Poverty reduction is the key to economic success.”
When increasing income, the money will be spent immediately in the local economy because people are out buying the necessities they need.
Novick called this idea “smart economics.”
System restructuring also needs to be done in areas such as the labour market and social assistance, he said.
Novick said raising minimum wage doesn’t eliminate jobs, but rather “changes bad jobs into good jobs.”
The government also has to look at the gap between income and social assistance, he said.
Ontario has to commit itself to increasing the Ontario Child Benefit to $1,500 from $1,100 because social assistance “only pays for the living needs of adults,” said Novick, who would like to see the maximum federal child benefit payment raised to $5,200 from $3,300.
One of the two pennies cut from GST could easily have paid for the payment raise, with money left over to invest in child care, he said.
Employment insurance also needs restructuring, as only three of 10 workers are able to receive funds when going through the risk of unemployment, said Novick.
To make these changes, communities need to band together and request that action be taken, he said.
“Poverty reduction is our common responsibility, our collective responsibility.”
Too many B.C. children living below poverty
By Matt Pearce
November 25 2008
On Friday the statistics on child poverty in Canada came out and once again for the fifth year running, B.C. was the worst in Canada.
Twenty-two per cent of our non-reserve children live below the poverty line as compared with the Canadian average of 16 per cent. This year’s statistics reflect 2006 conditions when the economy was running hot, so we can expect similar if not worse numbers now.
Coincidentally, we dropped to last the year that our current provincial government took power and made sweeping cuts to all services to children, including child and family services and public education.
Why should we be concerned? Children living in poverty drop out of school much more often, get involved with the justice and correctional system earlier and have poorer health outcomes throughout their lives. In short, they cost our society many times more than reducing child poverty would cost us.
The current ideologically driven government policies such as keeping the minimum wage down and reducing social assistance is a bit like paying off the mortgage while letting the roof rot and the foundation fail. The nearly 200,000 children living in poverty now in B.C. could be part of our positive future if we chose elected officials who could see past the next financial report card.
— Matt Pearce