Toronto Star: Waging war on poverty

The latest from the Toronto Star “war on poverty” series. Here is David Olive:


A constant state of dread – News – A constant state of dread

If the poor weren’t so conveniently invisible, maybe we’d come to our moral senses and devise a national strategy for eliminating poverty. But the one in six Canadians trapped in poverty are hidden in plain sight. They return from their minimum-wage work to a cot in a flophouse. They continue to live with an abusive spouse for lack of an alternative to the streets.

They live with fellow new Canadians, three or four to a room, in houses that should be condemned. They live in cramped quarters with parents or grown children. Some reside in cars or cube vans. Some get by on intermittent “Red Cross remittances” from distant relatives.

… The remedies available to a wealthy nation determined to greatly reduce, if not eradicate, poverty are as plain as day. A higher minimum wage. Affordable housing. Skills upgrading. Pharmacare. Universal child care.Increased social assistance payments, which by OCAP’s estimate have dropped 40 per cent after inflation from their peak in the 1980s. Nothing you haven’t heard about. All that’s missing is political will. And that will derives from public pressure, sadly lacking because impoverished people don’t advertise their stigmatized plight. They don’t have a ribbon campaign.

… the highest minimum wage in North America is Washington State’s $9.33 (Canadian). In Israel, the minimum wage is $20.65 (Canadian).Reliance on the minimum wage is higher in Canada, at 4.3 per cent of the workforce, than in the United States (1.4 per cent), but much lower than in France (15.6 per cent.).

There is a banality to poverty that works against urgent reform. Since few of us have as much money as we’d like, we think we know what it means to struggle to make ends meet. Somehow we manage, and expect others will as well.

… For Hugh Mackenzie, a research associate on the Inequality Project at the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, three key elements of an anti-poverty strategy would be affordable housing, pharmacare and universal child care.”Housing is fundamental to a decent standard of living,” says Mackenzie. “A family’s struggle to find housing sucks resources from nutrition and other essentials.”

Almost 70,000 people in Toronto alone are on waiting lists for affordable housing.

Since going off traditional welfare means foregoing drug benefits, the absence of prescription drug coverage for working-poor families “keeps them from climbing the `welfare wall’,” says Mackenzie.

“It’s a barrier to mobility, to entering a workforce where drug coverage is so rare in retailing, restaurant, janitorial and other low-paying jobs.”

And universal child care is essential “because we live in a society where as soon as kids are in school, parents are expected to work, almost always outside the home.”

For single parents, of course, their status as sole breadwinner makes child care a necessity long before their children are of school age.

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