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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1 Comment

  1. After reading the article, I am left feeling somewhat puzzled as to why our government spends so much money on poverty when they could eradicate the problem by spending much less. The National Council of Welfare released a report stating that the Canadian government currently spends 24 billion dollars, yet in 2007, taxpayers could have spent 12 billion to bring fellow Canadians above the poverty line.

    While the solution to poverty is extremely complex, our government cannot fully battle this contentious issue if a general consensus on why poverty exists cannot be reached. This can be extremely difficult as different political parties have different theories as to why. Conservatives have the view that people in poverty are lazy and defective where Socialists have the view that a person in poverty is a result of an oppressive society, placing less blame on the person. These conflicting viewpoints can severely impact the way money is spent on this issue. Conservatives would therefore not want to directly give a person in poverty money, as they might not spend it in a positive way and would rather indirectly give money to a shelter. This would be a reactive approach as to how money is spent. More proactive ways to spend money would be ways in which people would still be able to live in their homes, or live more comfortably before falling prey to the streets. These include affordable housing, affordable education and a better health care system.

    Unfortunately the report did not state how much money would need to be spent on proactive measures (income stabilization, affordable housing, education and health care). These were merely alternatives to fighting poverty instead of spending money reactively (shelters, policing, prisons and loss productivity). While the Economic Action Plan is proactive in promoting job creation to battle poverty, other government plans do not do their best in promoting jobs for everyone. Employment Insurance promotes Second Career, which helps people who are laid off transition into a new career by re-educating people. It is a great idea in theory, however, it is underfunded and not everyone who is unemployed and on Employment Insurance can qualify. Only two-year college programs are offered and it must be a career that is in demand. That means that a person who is applying to the program must prove that the job is in demand and it is decided on a case-to-case basis.

    I believe that one of the biggest problems with poverty in Canada is the fact that we do not have an official poverty line. While Statistics Canada does use the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) it is not an official government measure. This leads me to believe that if our government cannot agree on an official measure of poverty then the government really does not see poverty in our country as a problem. This means that we will continue to reactively approach this issue with a Band-Aid solution instead of getting to the root of the problem and dealing with it proactively.

    Wynter Bentley

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