By Jack Bourassa
A homeless person asking for change. An unemployed hopeless youth. A single parent working two jobs. A worker earning a minimum wage that’s way below a Living Wage. A child deprived of nutritious food. A family striving to find an affordable place to call home. Poverty is real and we witness it every day.
Defined as economic deprivation, poverty is more than that. Poverty is an assault on human rights. People susceptible to poverty experience it differently, but for many there is one shared factor: it’s hard to get out of the cycle of poverty. Sadly, poverty could be passed to the next generation as well. It doesn’t help to turn a blind eye to the social and political factors that contribute to poverty. But there is one simple concept that we can all adopt: by lifting each other up, we will all have better economic and social standards. However, this requires a political will.
The good news is that eradicating poverty in Canada is possible, and you can take the steps to make this happen. If there are many of us concerned, poverty will be history. Federal Election is around the corner and there is a chance for eradicating poverty to be a top priority— with collective action, let’s ask for this to be on all candidates’ platforms regardless of their parties. Eradicating poverty must not be partisan.
What are your plans to eradicate poverty? This is the classic question asked to candidates during debates, forums, town hall meetings, etc. It is an open-ended question that might divert the attention away from the real solution. In order to be informed about the candidates’ commitments towards eradicating poverty, we need to have a better understanding of what solutions would help.
Canada’s poverty rate is 9.5%. That’s 3.4 million Canadians deprived of economic resources, and thus, deprived of living a decent dignified life. Poverty is a concern in the North, particularly in remote communities. Market Basket Measure (MBM) is used to measure Canada’s poverty line. MBM is a measure of low income based on the cost of specified basket of goods and services representing a modest, basic standard of living. This, certainly, differs from region to region and from community to another. For instance, Statistics Canada is yet to determine how the MBM would be adjusted to represent areas of northern territories beyond capitals. This means that the poverty rate could be higher than the current estimates.
There is no one solution to lower, and to later bring an end to poverty. A system that lifts individuals and communities up has to be an integrated one with sustainable models that complement each other. Let’s explore ways in which governments (Federal and Territorial) could work together to improve the standard of living in the North.
There is no doubt that access to affordable housing would help. This could help people who would otherwise have to choose between paying rent or buying groceries. Being employed does not mean being immune to poverty. With the high cost of living in the North, the minimum wages in the territories are way below Living Wages. In addition to that, an individual working for a minimum wage often does not have access to work benefits. For example, they might not have medical benefits that covers prescription drugs. World Health Organization identifies poverty as the single largest determinant of health, and “ill health is an obstacle to social and economic development.” Universal Pharmacare comes to my mind as a solution here— this program is going to ensure that everyone with access to healthcare will also have access to prescription drugs. Addressing poverty also means addressing food insecurity in northern remote communities. Improving access to affordable nutritious food reduces poverty in northern remote communities.
There is one model that I want all of us to look at: Universal Basic Income. I believe that if implemented, this will have the greatest impact towards eradicating poverty. For this solution to have a concrete effect, it has to be introduced by the Federal government and implemented nationally. Under this model, low-income households will receive a monthly stipend income. This income will need to take into account diverse needs, realities and geographic locations.
Can we afford that? Investing in people and lifting individuals, families and communities above the poverty line is more affordable than dealing with the implications of poverty.
Enacting policies that help end poverty is a long-term investment that will not only benefit those who are under the poverty line, but future generations to come. Helping a family doesn’t only mean helping the parents, but helping their children get better education, health and be productive citizens giving back to their communities in the future. Poverty must be history; child poverty must be eradicated urgently. Let this issue unleash the activist within each one of us and motivate us to take an action. During the upcoming Federal Election, let’s be vigilant about poverty. We need a system that prioritizes the welfare of our communities. This will not happen unless we as individuals and communities prioritize ending poverty. Let’s recall what Nelson Mandela said: “As long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”
This column appeared in Nunatsiaq News on August 30, 2019