It’s been 25 years since the United Nations declared Oct. 17 International Day to Eradicate Poverty, and perhaps this is an appropriate time to look back over this past year to ask ourselves “what did I do to help.” While it is true that we can’t all contribute the same, and some have a greater responsibility than others, it is still a worthwhile exercise to examine our contributions; did we help, hinder, or stand aside?
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a report in 2017 titled Long Overdue: Why BC needs a poverty reduction plan. I encourage readers to take the time to review this paper, but in the meantime I’d like to highlight some of the major findings.
• Most people who are poor in BC are working, refuting the idea that poor people just need to “get a job”.
• Poverty rates for single-mother households are a shocking 49 per cent
• The poverty rate for Indigenous children in Vancouver is 38 per cent, and 52 per cent of on-reserve Indigenous children live in poverty.
The results found in this study are stark, and it is easy to be overwhelmed. The problem seems so huge that we sometimes find ourselves believing poverty can never be eliminated; that it’s simply a fact of life.
I would argue that the cost of not eliminating poverty is far, far greater than the cost to rid ourselves of it once and for all. Further, if we, the residents of B.C., demand that our provincial leaders take bold and decisive action, we would see, in relatively short order, a grand change in our society. I believe the reason that politicians do not act to critically address poverty in BC is largely because they are scared that if they take action they will be voted out. Effectively eliminating poverty may take more than one term, and no government is willing to risk it, unless the public is solidly on side.
Sadly, there is an anti-poor sentiment among many in this province that precludes even some of the mildest of measures, such as significantly increasing welfare rates and the minimum wage. The actual solutions to eliminating poverty are actually rather simple. There is heaps of research pointing to the correct path, so not knowing what to do…that’s not what’s holding us back.
Our attitudes towards the poor; the humiliation, stigma and shame associated with poverty point to the real problem. It’s time to believe that eliminating poverty is not only possible, but a moral imperative, and to do this, the first thing we are going to have to change is out attitude towards those at the very centre of this problem – the poor.