Proactive plan could save Canada billions
VancouverSun.com – business – National Council of Welfare says government should invest in housing, education, health care
September 29, 2011. By Derek Abma And Jordan Press, Postmedia News
The federal government should spend billions of dollars to eradicate the root causes of poverty in order to save much more in the long run, says a new report.
Poverty costs taxpayers more than $24 billion a year, said the report released Wednesday from the National Council of Welfare, a federal government advisory board.
The council reports to Diane Finley, the minister of human resources and skills development.
“The best way to fight poverty is to get Canadians working,” said Finley’s representative Alyson Queen.
“Our government is squarely focused on job creation as part of the economic recovery, and through the Economic Action Plan, we have created 600,000 jobs since July 2009.”
She said that through the universal child-care benefit, the government has lifted 24,000 families above the poverty line. The report said the government should put money toward things such as income subsidization, affordable housing, education and better health care to help rid Canada of poverty.
While the cost of such measures are not specified in the report, council chairman John Rook acknowledged it would take several billion dollars.
“It’s a lot less than the status quo,” he said in reference to how much poverty costs the country indirectly through things such as shelters, police and prison costs, health care and lost productivity.
The council report says, in 2007, it would have cost about $12 billion to bring all Canadians’ income to a level that was above the poverty line, about half of what it says poverty costs Canadian taxpayers each year. Asked whether the government can afford to take such measures, he said it can’t afford not to.
“If we’re already affording $24 billion, it’s kind of a nobrainer to afford $12 billion to make it better,” he said, though he added more money would be needed for measures that help keep people out of poverty.
While much of the Conservative government’s focus is on deficit-elimination and spending restraint, Rook said he’s “optimistic” it will take action to fight poverty.
“(The report) seems like it should be something that the government would want to look at,” Rook said.
“If we can save money and put people back to work so they’re paying taxes instead of draining taxes by living in homeless shelters, that should be a good thing. I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be huge government support for something like that.”
The report rang true for Michael Creek, who lived through poverty for several years, and was homeless for a while, after he was forced to stop working in 1993 after a cancer diagnosis.
“Especially now during these hard times, it’s often hard for Canadians to see past our personal circumstances,” Creek said. “But the economic and social benefits for all Canadians far outweigh what we would need to start addressing poverty today.”
Creek is coordinator for Voices From the Street, an advocacy group made up of people who have been marginalized from mainstream society. He said he cost the public health system much more – through drugs, hospital visits and doctor consultations – than he would have if he had the resources to maintain a healthier lifestyle during his economic hardship.
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