Posts / May 12, 2009

Reducing Poverty In Canada

As part of a federal initiative to reduce poverty in Canada, Halifax was home to the first round of talks bringing together members of Parliament and local non-profits. Since the event was open to the public, I figured it was a good opportunity to hear from local non-profits that are fighting poverty everyday.

What is poverty? Poverty is anyone who doesn’t have the means to provide for their basic needs; housing, food, education or healthcare. Poverty exists in good times, but even more so in tough times. Poverty is a failure of a community and society, and that’s why it’s everyone’s duty to help alleviate it.

Twelve local non-profits presented: YWCA, United Way, Salvation Army, North End Community Health Centre, Women’s Centres Connect, Phoenix Youth Programs, Community Action On Homelessness, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, Community Coalition To End Poverty, Face of Poverty Consultation, Canadian Union Of Public Employees and Saint Leonard’s Society. Although each of these organizations deal with different aspects of poverty, there was a number of common themes heard throughout.

Affordable Housing. Lack of affordable housing is a major cause of homelessness and a nation-wide strategy must be adopted. Affordable housing distributed throughout the city can reduce ghetto neighborhoods and allow for better integration into society.

National Childcare. A national childcare program is not just a good idea, but a requirement. Single mothers facing poverty should not have to choose between working or taking care of her child. A national childcare program needs to be treated much like our healthcare system.

Increased Funding / Less Paperwork. Local non-profits understand local problems, and often already know the solutions. But the reality is that many of these organizations have been faced with the same level of government funding for the past 15 years. And with increased demand for their services, they are faced to choose between cutting services or cutting staff. When new funding is available, it often requires excessive paperwork which is a major burden to already short-staffed organizations.

Increased Charity Tax Refund. Increased tax break for charitable donations would offer huge benefits to non-profits, who have seen a dramatic drop in donations during this economic downturn. Donations also help spread awareness and a better understanding of the organization.

Stimulus Into People. Rather than use stimulus money for infrastructure, shouldn’t we be investing in people? Getting people out of poverty and into the working class means they are making money and putting it back into the system, thus stimulating the economy.

Intervention Programs. Social programs like micro-saving and budgeting could play a critical role in helping prevent people from becoming homeless. 25% of people in homeless shelters are those recently evicted. Rather than address the problem after it occurs, perhaps we can help prevent it in the first place.

Employment Insurance Reform. Employment insurance needs to be addressed, especially for self-employed and part-time workers. Tough regulations and long waiting times makes it difficult for unemployed people to receive EI. But at the same time those who receive EI are encouraged not to save because it could risk them receiving. In a lot of ways, poverty is policy created and employment insurance reforms could go a long way to helping reduce poverty.

Obviously this is just a summary of some of the key points addressed, each of these topics were discussed in great detail throughout the day. It was apparent that these organizations often have the solutions to reducing poverty in their communities. They are on the front line battling poverty everyday but without the proper government support, they are fighting this battle alone. If the federal government is serious about reducing poverty (and not just about buying votes), they need to put faith in these organizations and give them the support they need to continue their fight against poverty.

“Life is not about having more, but about learning to living with less, so others can simply live.”