War on the poor vs. war on poverty

By Pat Watson Wednesday February 19 2014 in Opinion
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Massive line-ups at social service locales throughout the city formed once Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that gift cards for food would be handed out to people who lost their store of refrigerated food during the Christmas season because of the extended ice storm power outage.


From the appearance of the line-ups recorded for news reports, people in Toronto who most welcomed assistance to replace food were from immigrant ethnic groups. Poverty across the Greater Toronto Area is racialized. According to a 2008 Children’s Aid Society report on children living in poverty in the GTA, one child in five is of East Asian ethnicity; one child in four is Aboriginal, South Asian or Caribbean, and one child of every two of African origin. Of the families of these children, in Toronto, almost 25 per cent live in poverty. That means the emergence of poverty in this region now harkens back to the Depression era of the 1930s.


The poor suffer now from public policy decisions that have been built on for decades. Poor people have been starved of support and, unfailingly, when decisions are made at the head of the stream it takes more and more away from the already beleaguered poor.


Furthermore, the systems now in place to deal with matters of concern to the poor essentially function as a macro-employment mechanism for the poverty industry complex. This does not mean that all of those who have jobs ostensibly meant to aid the poor are not sincere in their efforts. There are some very good social service workers. But there are also those who are just pulling down a pay cheque. The point is that the system in place does little to end poverty, maintaining itself to employ people and, in effect, continuing to enable poverty. One report puts the cost of maintaining poverty in Toronto at $3.2 billion in 2013, yet concluded that to close the poverty gap would cost $1.1 billion less that than.


Think about the various services and programs that employ people to address the needs of the poor. One of the most obvious is rent geared to income housing. The organization that manages public housing in Toronto has a backlog of repairs of almost one billion dollars. Squalid conditions in public housing only exacerbate the social and economic predicament. Imagine what could really be done for the working poor with that amount of money.


The cost to the healthcare system to treat poverty is another related matter. More than half the province’s budget goes to healthcare programmed far more to deal with the end result of poverty – the results of stress, poor nutrition, depression and a host of other contributing factors. If prevention is better than cure, then healthcare interventions should not aim for response after the fact. It is much more cost effective to prevent poverty related illnesses than to have to treat them after the onset.


Public transportation is another contributor to the entrenchment of poverty. While politicians fiddle with abstractions of subways and light rapid transit, those who want to have better means of moving about the city in pursuit of employment are effectively kept out of the marketplace.


Regardless of their political stripe, the leading political parties have all contributed to this war on the poor, either through their policies or through neglect of actions that would begin to seriously address this rising tide of social injustice. That terrible condition did not emerge by accident or by chance. There is a meanness here that is crippling our society.

So here is the challenge for those who are suffering from this war on the poor. How are we going to change this paradigm to a war on poverty?

A note on Florida’s gun use law…


Another case is making the headlines echoing the tragic shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who after a trial by jury got away with murder, because he could hide behind the State’s “Stand Your Ground” law. In this case, a White male who took offense at Black teens in a car playing rap music he thought too loud resulted in the shooting death of one of the teens, 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The jury has found the shooter guilty of lesser charges than the original murder charge. But cases such as these are the ones that actually make the news. What about the staggering numbers that don’t?

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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