Common sense key to healthier, safer and better community

owensoundsuntimes.com – editorial
Oct. 4, 2011.    By David Shearman

If I told you that I can show you a proven, concrete way to reduce health care costs, crime rates and increase jobs, would you listen?

I’m not running for public office (thank goodness). But over the years I have become more and more convinced that what our government does on our behalf to reduce health-care costs, crime and increase jobs is less than effective.

In the area of health care, claims of politicians aside, there isn’t a lot of fat to cut. There may be efficiencies to find yet, but they become more and more scarce and it becomes more and more costly to search for them.

Do we spend more money looking for costs to cut? Or do we look elsewhere?

Do we start to address the roots of the issues?

Crime is a major issue on people’s minds. Yet the statistics show again and again that crime rates are declining. No question, certain types of crimes are on the increase in certain specific areas of Canada, but those are often enforcement issues. Crime rates continue to decline, yet for some reason we seem to need, our government says, more jails and jails that are disconnected from local communities.

I shake my head.

Governments continue to trumpet gains in education, yet the opportunity for education continues to lag. And job training and retraining continues to be below par.

Would you be willing to invest tax dollars, up front, for payoff in 10 or 20 years in lower costs for health care, lower costs for criminal justice and more people gainfully employed?

That’s the suggestion of the National Council of Welfare, an advisory board to the Minister of Human Resources and Human Development Canada, Diane Finley. The Council’s recent report, “The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty” suggests we take an investment approach to poverty reduction in Canada.

The idea isn’t new. Since the 1980s, Canada has used a similar approach in solving poverty in the senior population. Guaranteed pensions and pension supplements have significantly increased the quality of life and health for our seniors. The report suggests the approach be expanded.

Take a homeless person in Calgary, for example.

Keeping that person in hospital costs taxpayers $120,000 a year. An emergency shelter? $42,000 a year. But having that person living in supportive housing with social support services costs between $13,000 and $18,000 per year, improves their quality of health and reduces their draw on the health-care system.

Seems like common sense, doesn’t it?

The report also looks at our criminal justice system. 80% of Canadian women are in jail because of poverty-related crimes; 39% because they couldn’t pay a fine. Yet it costs the taxpayer $1,400 when a woman doesn’t pay a $150 fine.

What’s wrong with this picture? And what are the less expensive alternatives?

As a pastor, I’ve seen the positive change that can happen right in this city when people move into safe, affordable housing.

I’ve seen the change in lives when mental health issues are properly diagnosed and treated and supported.

I’ve seen the positive outcome when people have support to eat healthier and can manage their diabetes better.

We are far from perfect. I’ve talked to a married couple who were trying to figure out how they can live together under the same roof and navigate the convoluted and draconian maze of disability rules and regulations in Ontario.

I recall a colleague, who was accompanying someone to a government office to straighten out a financial problem, seeing a clerk put a form in front of a disabled person and hearing, “Read this and sign here.”

My colleague quietly pointed out to the clerk, “They can’t read.”

The National Council of Welfare’s report is right on. We have to invest more on poverty and soon. The Province of Quebec, for example, in investing $7 per child per day in subsidized day-care has resulted in a 15 percentage point drop in poverty rates for single parents over the last decade. That’s a real difference.

We can make things better. We can have a healthier, safer, better community. We just have to have the political and investment will to do it.

That’s simply common sense.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV -Grey County.

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