It costs more to maintain poverty than eliminate it

Posted on August 13, 2013 in Social Security Debates – opinion/letter to the editor
August 13, 2013.   Mary Boyd


The news that P.E.I. is second worst in food insecurity in the country comes as no surprise. It is four-and-a-half years since we were promised a Poverty Eradication Strategy to eliminate poverty on P.E.I. Without it people must endure the worry of running out of food, compromising the quality of their diet, having insufficient food at meals and even going to bed hungry. P.E.I. is surpassed only by Nunavut and some of the Northern territories in the extent of food insecurity in this country.

The cost to those caught in poverty is enormous. It includes sickness and premature death. Poverty is a moral issue and it begs urgent action, not the current response of the Department of Community Services and Seniors in their Social Action Plan. In its two-year history the SA plan has been extremely disappointing and has received much public criticism for its failure to commit to seriously tackling the problem of poverty.

Where are the public hearings that should be held across the province to enable those suffering poverty and its accompanying food insecurity to tell their stories in their own words? There is no substitute for these first-hand stories.

The latest Social Action Report makes no mention of holding hearings. We beg to differ with those who advise that second-hand stories are sufficient. The Report on Household Food Insecurity in Canada tells us that there are many people suffering in silence in our province and country. Let’s break the culture of silence that exists among those suffering poverty and debunk the myths that intimidate them.

This year’s Social Action report is again a business as usual report. The achievements listed are but a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

The biggest problem for those in poverty is lack of personal income, made worse in this province by the HST. The authors of the Household Food Insecurity Report see the need for increased income and hope that the future will bring ‘more effective, targeted interventions to prevent food insecurity and inform the development of smart, responsible, cost-effective public policy. The cost of inaction is too high.’

The MacKillop Centre for Social Justice and Poverty Bites sponsored research in co-operation with the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and found that the province would save $40 million per year in direct health costs if poverty were eliminated for the poorest 20 percent of Islanders. Most of this comes from hospitalizations for acute conditions that could have been prevented. Overall direct costs amount to $100 million per year.

Add to that approximately $220 million in indirect costs to society and that’s 7.6 percent of the Island’s GDP per year, a huge bill that does nothing to alleviate suffering. Think of what could be done if the problem was tackled with vision and determination? It costs twice as much to maintain poverty as it would cost to eliminate it. There are many changes that could be made immediately if poverty eradication was given the priority it needs. The tools are there. Where is the political will?

Mary Boyd, Charlottetown, P.E.I. Coalition for a Poverty Eradication Strategy

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