Poverty is our collective shame
Much has been written lately about poverty, lots of statistics, rational, consternation and with our recession and a probable further economic bubble or slowdown, it’s going to get worse.
It is an absolute disgrace and an outrage that in a rich country and in a rich province like BC, we have 500,000 people living in poverty at last count, the highest poverty rate in Canada, 119,000 of them children. Remember the unanimous vote of our Federal Parliament in 1989 to put an end to child poverty by 2000? What happened to our moral obligation to do the right thing? Did we forget? Was it no longer a pledge to be honoured by our elected parliamentarians? Does it no longer matter that we have children going to bed and to school hungry?
Our social resources in this country in the most recent analysis by the Conference Board of Canada exposes the persistent failure to reverse rising rates of both poverty and income inequality. It is most disturbing as a parent and grandparent to find the child poverty rate at 15.1% higher than it was in the mid-1990s. Alarming also is the poverty rate for senior citizens in Canada. It has increased sharply in the last 15 years, from 2.9% to 6.7%, or 131%.
The conference Board Report also quotes the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) saying: “Failure to tackle the poverty and exclusion facing millions of families and their children is not only socially reprehensible, but it will also weigh heavily on our country’s capacity to sustain economic growth in years to come.”
We have billions to bail out the banks and billions for military hardware, such as F35 Fighters, killing machines, but no money to alleviate poverty, homelessness and hunger. Exacerbating this is the problem of tax loophole avoidance and offshore havens that have allowed the rich and their corporations to become unbelievably wealthy on the backs and misery of everyone else. A recent survey exposed the richest 10% among us own 94% of the wealth.
Further proof of the problem of poverty is the increased use of food banks, up by 31% since 2008. People seek help and when governments don’t fill the void, they sometimes, in desperation, end up begging in the streets. I remember when I made a gift of money to a beggar in China, I was pointedly told by our interpreter that it was not necessary, as they were looked after by society. My immediate reply was that if they were properly looked after, they wouldn’t have to beg. I believe the same applies to the people begging in the streets of New Westminster. It is not only in New Westminster; begging is becoming more and more prevalent everywhere you go.
I believe these people have as much right to the sidewalk as any other citizen, expressing their need for help, particularly as welfare and disability rates are totally inadequate and have not been raised for over 5 years. Rather than kick people off the streets, as some suggest, maybe we should be asking why they are on the streets begging in the first place, and why we have so little compassion for those less fortunate.
Contrary to those who complain about beggars being aggressive and rude, I have found no such problem. I have found them to be generally withdrawn and very appreciative if given a contribution or recognition of their circumstances. Maybe it’s time to look in the mirror and see who we are and what kind of society we are part of and responsible for.
Maybe we should each realize that there but for the grace of God or fate walk I, and that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Maybe we need a new economy if critical economic, social and environmental goals are to be met.
Maybe we need new government committed to the needs of society, not just to the rich with their bought and paid for politicians, lobbyists, corporations and organized greed.