Let’s rethink poverty to change minds, lives

Posted on October 5, 2011 in Inclusion Debates

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thepost.ca  – news/columns
Oct. 4, 2011.   By Mary Lou Mills

“We live in a state of survival…all day, all the time.”

This gut-wrenching admission comes from a member of a local working family. The comment speaks to the challenges of making ends meet while working full-time at minimum wage.

A single mother from this area is also brutally honest when she talks about living on social assistance with her family: “I regularly run out of food, and I don’t eat so my child can eat.”

Poverty is not a choice. However, it is a reality for some families and individuals right here in our own community. This is not what we expect in a rich country like Canada.

Some people are skeptical about poverty, believing the issue is overstated and that “the poor” can do more to help themselves. These perceptions can be a major roadblock to finding solutions to the real problem, so that is why the health unit is encouraging people to ‘Rethink Poverty’.

Poverty is a complex problem that requires a ‘rethink.’ This can help to focus on ways we can practically address poverty in our community. It is timely to do this during the current Ontario election campaign, when we can tell candidates that poverty is an important issue in our riding. We can ask them what they will do to address the problem, and keep their responses in mind when voting. For ideas on what to ask the candidates, visit www.rethinkpoverty.ca.

There is no quick fix to poverty. Sure it is easy to say, “If people want to work, they can always find a job,” but that simple statement does not take into account certain realities.

For some families, especially single parents, lack of transportation or childcare can be major barriers to finding employment. Many of the jobs being created in this area are part-time and lower-paying, which makes it harder to find work that offers full-time hours and pays enough to support a family. Even people who work full-time at minimum wage can struggle to raise their family above the poverty line.

Then there is the belief held by some that “poor people don’t have it so bad.” Is that really the case when approximately 12% of children age 17 and under live in low-income families (Statistics Canada), or when between September 2007 and September 2008, Lindsay saw a 39.3% increase in the number of people using food banks? The fact of the matter is that many low-income families go without the basics of life, are sick more often and live shorter lives.

We need to rethink poverty, and our notions about it. By knowing the facts, we can change minds. By speaking up, we can change lives.

-Mary Lou Mills is a family health nurse with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit

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