Opinion » Editorial

Poverty affects everyone



Last Friday, Oct.17, marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

It was a busy day for the world — there was Ebola on U.S. soil, the sentencing began on the so-called robocalls scandal case in Ontario and the RCMP admitted that the PEI potato tampering case (needles in the root veggies) was not made public until a pierced potato showed up in a home.

The plight of those without enough to sustain themselves, and how that affects development and growth in our province, country, and indeed the world, didn't get much attention.

Often stories like this are overlooked because the problem seems so enormous, so overwhelming that the average person, and our "leaders," chose not to address it.

Far easier to worry about Ebola, than what to do about helping those in poverty in our own communities.

In many ways Whistler is very fortunate thanks to the amazing Whistler Community Services Society. Were it not for this organization and the funds it gets from the Re-Use-It and Re-Build-It Centres (along with major donations from the likes of the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation) many of the social programs operating here wouldn't exist. It makes sure that kids have access to sports, it offers counselling services, a community kitchens program, a foodbank — in all more than 20 programs.

These programs have been instrumental in providing thousands of residents with some level of support, but in many cases the programs cannot address the root cause of poverty.

All of these things help, but let's remember that this was the 21st annual International Day for the Eradication of Poverty — a day designated by the United Nations to try and eradicate poverty — that's 21 years of talking about it.

In Canada, income inequality and poverty have increased significantly since the first International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Child poverty rates in Canada remain persistently higher than the OECD average, with almost 900,000 Canadians needing to use a food bank monthly — and on any given night 30,000 people are homeless. In 2013 in Whistler 2,370 people used our foodbank — 470 were children.

Most Canadians are unaware that one in seven people in this country experience poverty.

"Almost 500,000 people in British Columbia are living in poverty and facing food insecurity on a daily basis, and many of them are children," Trish Garner, Community Organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, said last week.

"Food banks are necessary for the crisis we face but they are not a long-term solution. We are one of the most generous provinces in the country yet we have had the highest poverty rate for the last 13 years. We need governments to step in and share the weight at the provincial and federal level. We need a provincial and federal poverty reduction strategy."

The situation worldwide is even more alarming with income-based measures of poverty, by the United Nations Development Programme showing that 1.2 billion people live on $1.25 or less a day and that 60 per cent of the world's poor are women.

Reading this likely makes you want to just throw up your hands in surrender.

Instead I suggest you make a difference in your own way. That might be by volunteering, it might be a donation, it might be just talking about this issue with your friends — maybe it is even helping a neighbour.

The nature of Whistler — its seasonal, low-paid labour — seems to focus the plight of the "working-poor" here.

And while great strides have been taken — the building of resident-restricted homes, and the aforementioned WCSS — some of the root problems can have a local solution.

And that solution as its most basic level comes down to wages. You simply cannot get out of poverty earning minimum wage in Whistler, even if you are lucky enough to work a 40-hour week.

Most people living in poverty have a job, and almost half of the "poor" children in B.C. live in families with at least one parent working full-time.

Poverty is not just a hardship for those who experience it. It is costly to us all as a province. Poverty costs society $8-9 billion per year in higher public health care costs, increased policing and crime costs, lost productivity, and foregone economic activity.

In contrast, the estimated cost of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan in B.C. is $3-4 billion per year, according to the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.

There is no doubt that the "big" solution to this issue lies with the province and even the federal government. But we can continue to come up with made-in-Whistler solutions too — as we have done in the past.

When it is time to mark the 22nd International Eradication of Poverty day let's have moved the gauge toward sustainable living.


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