Why are citizens increasingly filling up bread lines?
LFPress.com – Opinion/Column – How can so many children remain mired in poverty?
January 3, 2014. By Glen Pearson
At a very basic level, New Year’s Day merely reflects that Earth has travelled completely around the sun. But for millennia almost every society has made it into something far more. In Canada we love to celebrate it as a time of new beginnings and enhanced possibilities. In other words, we delight in believing that we can define a new future for ourselves.
In so many ways, talking about a more dynamic future has become far easier than actually creating one. Political parties excel at this, but the more we hear from them, the more we get the sense that the promises are undeliverable; as the influence of government wanes, it remains a difficult thing to believe that any party in power can successfully tackle our greatest problems.
We’re a complex and affluent society, right? We’re supposedly able to direct our greatest potential and overcome our most challenging difficulties, correct? Why aren’t these things happening? Somehow, as we move into a new year, we aren’t quite as sure as we used to be that we can actually determine our own direction.
Take poverty as just one of those challenges. When exactly will we turn the corner on it? It’s been more than 25 years since the nation dedicated itself to ending child poverty and it has since doubled. Unemployment continues to climb with each succeeding year, regardless of supposed financial recoveries. The number of our citizens in homeless situations continues to escalate, with struggling veterans now part of that demographic. Gone are the days when we waited for economic recovery to bring things down to pre-recession numbers; they remain stubbornly high and speak to our inability to create an economy that is good for all Canadians.
And then there is the troubling increase in the food bank industry countrywide. “Industry” is a troubling term to use about organizations in our communities that were supposed to be temporary. My wife, Jane Roy, and I, as co-directors of the London Food Bank, are continually reminded at community events that it’s too bad we have to have food banks. It’s a prevalent sentiment that seems to have no solution.
In Britain, the subject of food banks is resulting in intense debate, as one government minister, Iain Duncan Smith, refused to face opposition benches when the Commons debated the rise and presence of food banks throughout the nation. Pressure had been applied to the cabinet to discuss better ways of reducing hunger, to stop the endless rounds of benefit cuts, and to invest in work that provided citizens a wage they could live on. So far at least, the government has opted to respond by saying that citizens supporting the poor is a good thing and that people should stop looking to government. But if that is true, why is unemployment remaining so high? Why are citizens increasingly filling up bread lines? How can so many children remain mired in poverty?
This debate will inevitably move to Canada, where governments of all stripes have failed to stem the rising tide of debilitating poverty at the federal, provincial, territorial and local levels. How can a nation that maintains that food banks are temporary solutions continue to accept that hunger itself has now become a new Canadian institution?
Take London’s situation as one example of many. Visits per family have risen steadily over the food bank’s 26 years, even through the more prosperous years. Increasingly, those seeking assistance were employed members of our community just a year ago.
Are we content with such realities taking over the narrative of our community life? Must food banks be the best we can do in seeking to assist low-income individuals and families, or are other options possible? Might we discover new ways to not only assist those struggling to make ends meet, but also imagine new directions for stimulating our local economy? Increasingly these will become the questions citizens will be asking of themselves and their leaders over the next decade.
To say we have no answers is to admit that 2014 will look much like the year just passed. For such a highly educated and diverse society, this is a sell-out that is beneath the example of ingenuity and sacrifice set by our parents and grandparents.
Glen Pearson is co-director of the London Food Bank and a former Liberal MP for the riding of London North Centre.
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