Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Letter: What will the parties do to end poverty?

There isn’t a single community in Canada immune to poverty and ours is no different.

Unfortunately, 16,915 of Chatham-Kent’s residents live in poverty – 4,520 of them are children.

With Election Day approaching on October 21st, we at United Way of Chatham-Kent are waiting and watching for all parties to share their anti-poverty plans with voters.

In June 2019, federal poverty reduction legislation was passed. This means the next federal government—and all those that follow—are required by law to make progress against poverty.

For most, poverty is an uncomfortable reality we’ve come to accept as a part of our society. But our neighbours who have lived with poverty know that it is ever present in their life—the choice between rent and food on the table, the fear of unforeseen expenses you can’t meet, the inability to give your children the same experience as others.

When we talk about poverty, we are really talking about the ‘opportunity gap’—we all have potential; we don’t all have the same opportunity to fulfill it. Tackling poverty is about building hope—a belief in the potential of all Canadians.

Poverty is a driver of the opportunity gap in this country. It can be uncomfortable to talk about. It can seem too complicated to address. But poverty has no place in a resource-rich, compassionate country like Canada. Our failure to eliminate poverty is socially and economically unacceptable.

We know Canadians value taking care of each other when we struggle – we give our time, energy and money because we are compassionate. In Chatham-Kent, individuals, families, businesses and labour councils show their love for this community by supporting our efforts to make social issues like poverty #UNIGNORABLE.

Last year alone, we engaged 4300+ donors and volunteers to raise $1,565,000 to support community services for people struggling to pay the rent, feed the kids and find work. Our investments work – take for example Operation Backpacks. We are working hard to ensure poverty does not stand in the way of a child’s ability to receive a good education. Each year, an average of 1600 students from families living in poverty are equipped with the tools they need to seize the opportunity of a good education. The backpacks that are distributed represent more than their practical purpose, they denote respect, dignity, and caring. Furthermore, there are another 16 complimentary programs focused on our local youth helping to keep them on track from cradle to career.

To address poverty, modern government policy must be proactive. For our local candidates seeking federal office in October, it’s time to make the eradication of poverty in Canada a policy priority. Doing so will focus our collective efforts on removing the barriers that keep so many from participating in our economy and having the quality of life that is possible here.

The good news for Canada is that we now have the lowest poverty rate in our history, and a federal poverty reduction strategy with targets and timelines, including reducing poverty by 50 per cent by 2030. But we must ask ourselves if we are aiming high enough with a target that is the minimum of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal on poverty. A 50 per cent reduction will still leave more than two million Canadians in poverty and drain billions of dollars from public coffers. Canada can surely be more ambitious and set its sights on eradication.

We know that the billions spent today on treating the effects of poverty are better spent in removing barriers and creating opportunities to lift people out of poverty and preventing it tomorrow. Vital investments in affordable housing and childcare, accessible health and community services, better training to align with labour market needs, and strong, modern income security programs can make poverty a distant memory.

When we remove barriers, we can ensure every person in this community and communities across Canada has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Steve Pratt
CEO, United Way of Chatham-Kent

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