With some effort, society could tackle poverty problem

Lana Payne
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Campaign 2000 says poverty is a symptom of our collective neglect children cannot be held responsible for the social conditions of their birth.

Poverty can be reduced. It can be tackled. It can even be eliminated. And governments can make a difference in the lives of citizens.

All it requires is political will, commitment and a plan.

This is one of the main messages from the latest report from Campaign 2000 a non-profit organization dedicated to the elimination of child poverty.

And in two Canadian provinces Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador governments have shown that with a plan, money and programs, poverty can be reduced. Both have poverty reduction action plans and, in our case, a government commitment to have the lowest poverty in the country over a 10-year period.

One of the reports findings is that child poverty in both provinces has declined by 40 per cent since the year 2000. For our province that means we no longer have the highest child-poverty rate in the country Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have worse poverty levels.

Campaign 2000 would like to see every Canadian province, in conjunction with the federal government, get serious about reducing poverty. Sentiment doesnt pay the rent or put food on the table.

And in Canada we have had too much sentiment and not enough action.

It started with a 1989 all-party House of Commons commitment to end child poverty by the year 2000.

Yet Canadas child poverty rate in 2005 was exactly the same as it was in 1989 when that promise was made.

Since 1989, most governments have been too busy cutting taxes and reinforcing the big lie that they cant do anything about poverty except to get out of the way of the marketplace. Its what the author of the Campaign 2000 report calls false assurances a nice way of saying that Canadians have been led down the garden path.

But there is plenty that governments can do as the Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec governments have proven.

Local work

Thats not to say that everything is rosy in our province. We have a lot of work ahead of us. This is no time to sit back on our laurels.

In the past week, a coalition of religious groups stressed the need for more action on poverty. They reminded the Williams government and the opposition parties that ending poverty should be a priority during this election campaign with commitments made and carried out after Oct. 9.

They know that any poverty is too much. They know that too many people in our province are working for poverty wages and depending on food banks to get by. They also know that despite the help-wanted signs, we still lack well-paying jobs and there are still too many barriers facing those who have been excluded from the labour force or who get stuck in dead-end employment with little opportunity of getting out of it. They know that people with disabilities, newcomers, single mothers and seniors still face an enormous up-hill battle.

In their religious and social-justice work, they see poverty every day and the hopelessness it inspires. It ravages the soul and the body and we all have a responsibility to do something about it not just by giving to a local charity, but by understanding that tackling poverty is an excellent use of our tax dollars. It is how we build a better world for tomorrow, for our children because poverty is also a form of debt that we leave the next generation.

Campaign 2000 says poverty is the denial of equal opportunity, and a symptom of our collective neglect children cannot be held responsible for the social conditions of their birth.

The reports author, Marvyn Novick, co-founder of Campaign 2000 and professor emeritus at Ryerson University, was scathing in his critique of those who have led Canadians to believe that economic growth and prosperity will solve poverty. Market forces have not done the job.

He also criticized those who call for tax cuts, saying they are jeopardizing the future for their children and grandchildren by undermining our nations ability to support and build a country.

Novick says Canadians have been living through a period of denial, deflection and false assurances. Certainly, he could have added inaction, neglect and abandonment.

But it is not too late.

Campaign 2000 has laid out targets, calling on governments to act to reduce child-poverty rates by 25 per cent by 2012 and by 50 per cent by 2017.

Neither of these is unrealistic. In fact, the first target can be achieved by ensuring that every parent who works full time and a full year is earning a wage above the poverty line. According to the Campaign 2000 report Summoned to Stewardship: Make Poverty Reduction A Collective Legacy this alone would meet the 25 per cent reduction target, since 33 per cent of all children in poverty live in families where a parent works full time, full year.

Higher wages

The anti-poverty advocates have even shown governments how they can meet the reduction targets, including higher minimum wages of at least $10 an hour, a $5,100 annual child-tax benefit, adequate income for people with disabilities, support to allow people to go from welfare to work with decency and dignity, and the availability and access to essential services such as adequate EI protection, a prescription drug and dental plan, affordable housing and child care, and early learning programs.

And in fitting with the organizations call for stewardship, Campaign 2000 says we can not allow social disparities to deepen and our communities to become divided, without eventually changing the kind of Canada we create for ourselves and bestow on others.

It is a matter of political will, of social responsibility, and taking a collective ownership of the problem.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. Her column returns Sept. 30.

Organizations: Campaign 2000, House of Commons, Ryerson University

Geographic location: Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Ontario British Columbia Manitoba Saskatchewan Williams

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