Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 18, 2009
Recession must not overshadow battling poverty
Canadian Social Forum will kick off a Dignity for All Campaign in May
Journey to Justice
In tough economic times, it’s especially hard to reduce poverty. With many more Canadians living only a pay cheque or two away from poverty, it’s also especially important to do so.
The United Nations defines poverty as “a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.”
Canada’s Catholic bishops summarized this point much more succinctly in 1996 saying that, “poverty . . . ultimately symbolizes marginalization.”
According to the bishops, poverty “is not a personal problem of certain ‘unworthy’ individuals. Poverty is sometimes caused by environmental factors or by private or public corruption. Poverty may also be the result of illness, disability or simply the lack of personal initiative.
“Most often, however, poverty is the result of economic processes created and directed by humans. Viewed in this light, poverty appears as a phenomenon that we can influence. We can change such processes by making different societal choices.”
A CHOICE WAS MADE
So then, most Canadians (and their governments) must have chosen to let poverty endure.
Canada’s poverty rates, no matter the measure, have remained steadily high over the past quarter century. By Statistics Canada’s measure (called Low Income Cut-off after Tax) an astounding 11 per cent of Canadians, or 3.6 million people, lived in poverty in 2006.
Yet a 2007 Angus Reid poll reported 46 per cent of Canadians believe government programs to improve the conditions of the poor are not having an impact.
But some government initiatives have certainly worked. Canadians decided several decades ago that poverty among the elderly was unacceptable and, by improving public pension programs, the rate of poverty among older Canadians plummeted from 29 per cent in 1976 to 5.4 per cent in 2006.
As well, the Caledon Institute has estimated that more than 200,000 more Canadian families would be classified as low income today were it not for the current level of child benefits. They conclude that the federal government “can reduce poverty, it does reduce poverty and it should reduce poverty a lot more.”
Will the government take up the challenge? Will we ensure that they do?
CANADIAN SOCIAL FORUM
On Friday, May 22 in Calgary, during the final plenary session of the Canadian Social Forum, a new coalition of groups will come together to press the federal government to do exactly that.
This event will mark the dawning of the Dignity for All Campaign, a partnership of organizations from across the country being mobilized by Canada Without Poverty and Citizens for Public Justice. It will include Campaign 2000, the Canadian Teachers Federation, the Canadian Council on Social Development, Make Poverty History, the Canadian Labour Congress, and many others.
It is anticipated that more than 700 forum participants will be present in Calgary to kick off this initiative, as well as several members of Parliament.
The Dignity for All campaign has three goals:
The partners working on the campaign feel that the dignity and security of every person needs to become a priority. In religious language, we were all made in the image and likeness of God. If we really believed that, we’d never allow over 10 per cent of us to live in poverty and injustice would meet its first and major defeat.
Other nations, such as Ireland and the UK have developed and implemented poverty reduction strategies, with promising results. Four Canadian provinces have also developed such plans and others are on the way.
DIGNITY FOR ALL
Yet, the federal government, a hugely important provider of social security for Canadians, has avoided new action. The Dignity for All campaign wants to see improvement in unemployment insurance, income, food and housing security, child care and early child development, labour standards, a green jobs strategy, health supports and particular supports for vulnerable populations.
If Canadians of the last generation showed the political will to drastically lower poverty among seniors, could we not show a similar commitment to eliminate poverty today?
Calgary in May will present a new moment for us all to step up to the challenge.
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)
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