Eradicating poverty is attainable – Opinion/Letters-to-editor/commentary – Re ‘Let’s focus on easing, not eliminating, poverty’ (The Guardian, July 4, 2011) by John Eldon Green:
Published on July 25, 2011.   By Mary Boyd

No doubt John Eldon Green did good work during his term as deputy minister of the then Welfare Department, especially freeing social assistance from political patronage and power. Nevertheless, relieving poverty does not go far enough. The goal must be elimination of poverty.

John Eldon uses a very literal interpretation of Mark 14:7 where Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” Many biblical scholars say that Jesus was quoting from the Book of Leviticus. There, people were setting up a society in which there would be no poor. I checked this interpretation with Sister Elizabeth Davis a biblical scholar from St. John’s, NL, who led this year’s Diocese of Charlottetown Bible Institute. Sister agreed with the interpretation and pointed out that Jesus demonstrated the greatest of respect for all people in word and action. He believed in the equality of and the dignity of each human person. There are many examples of this in the gospels.

In addition, people on social assistance are not the only ones trapped in poverty. Many people can’t qualify for assistance and many with full-time employment fall below the poverty line while others can’t find work or have to settle for part-time and seasonal work. In many cases, seniors’ pensions are not adequate and many primary producers, especially farmers, are struggling to hold onto their farms. These problems call for changes in the Island economy.

Inadequate poverty measures have fed a tendency to underestimate or deny the extent of poverty on P.E.I. For years many of us knew that statistics for this province didn’t match the indicators. Now the more flexible Market Basket Measurement is enabling more accurate figures to emerge.

Researchers at the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives (CCPA) found that maintaining this system of poverty rather than eradicating it costs the province from five per cent to seven per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually. What other issue, taking such a chunk of revenues, would be treated with such indifference? Would there not be an outcry if these figures applied to other sectors? And what about the human cost to health and the suffering caused by social exclusion?

P.E.I. is late getting into a strategy to eliminate poverty. Quebec, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba are miles ahead and Nova Scotia and some other provinces have outlined their plans. Britain, Ireland, Germany and many other European countries have strategies as do some low-income countries.

Poverty eradication is an attainable target. Although New Brunswick refers to its plan as poverty reduction it is clear that its goal is poverty elimination.

Sometimes politicians prefer the term “poverty reduction” because they fear that if they fail to meet targets on time, critics will view their efforts as failure and use it against them. Opinion polls give a different picture. There is huge support for strong leadership by our governments. In a CPPA poll last year, 91 per cent of Atlantic Canadians agreed “that Canada should try to distinguish itself in the world as a country where no one lives in poverty.” In the same poll, 96 per cent of Islanders stated that government should reduce poverty by 25 per cent in five years and that strong targets and timelines should be set until poverty is wiped out. In order to do this, governments would have to admit that the current system is not working, that it needs to be redesigned rather than simply tinkered with. Since P.E.I. is late in the game, we have the advantage of learning much from what others are accomplishing.

Mary Boyd is the co-ordinator of the MacKillop Centre for Social Justice.

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