Monday, December 15, 2008

The two feet of charity and social justice

During this season of giving, we like to give back to those who have less than we do. Traditionally we help out by doing an act of charity - giving to food banks, turkey drives, soup kitchens, and Christmas baskets.

And these are all wonderful and very worthwhile causes. No Islander likes to think of a friend, relative or neighbour going without. These acts help people survive the immediate crisis. They help folks provide a happy Christmas for their families.

We need to help people survive in difficult times, but we also must work for long-term solutions to reduce poverty on this Island and around the world. We wish to encourage Islanders to consider fighting poverty by walking with two feet: one foot being 'acts of charity' and the other foot being 'acts of social justice'. The two must work together for us to walk strongly.

While helping people out in tough times is absolutely necessary, it is also absolutely necessary that we also work toward eliminating poverty. So how can we work to eliminate poverty?
We can buy local foods and gifts that support a living wage for local citizens. We can buy fairly traded products. We can talk to our MPs and MLAs. We can join local groups working to eliminate poverty. We can donate money to local groups working to eliminate poverty. Island groups who specifically work on this issue are the McKillop Centre, the Cooper Institute, the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income, ALERT and the local chapter of the National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO).

So this year when you are making your charitable donation, consider what you can do to walk with the other foot. Let's keep moving and work together to eliminate poverty - at Christmas and all year long.

Sara Roach-Lewis,
Women's Network P.E.I.
(a member organization of the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income)

Friday, December 5, 2008

We need action now to crack poverty

As the current economic crisis developed, many people across Canada were awakened to the reality of instabilities with their finances and pensions. Many are worried about being able to continue their current lifestyles, supporting their children through their education and retiring with security.

While these worries might be new to many Canadians, others live with these worries and many more each day. Canadians living in low income and poverty must continuously worry about their financial security and about supporting their families with basic necessities such as shelter and food.

Yet during this economic downturn, we do not see leadership by the federal or provincial governments to assist those most vulnerable with more financial security and access to the workforce if able. The reality of the situation remains stark as people living in poverty have less money than they had two decades ago and those who are rich are richer than they were two decades ago.

While the problem is and remains evident, the solution is not a one-over. Redirecting taxes or raising wages will not solve the poverty we see on Prince Edward Island. We need the co-operation of all Islanders, businesses and levels of government to work together on a strategy that commits to concrete reductions in the levels of poverty for our province.

Some will argue that we must wait for the economy to become strong again before we address these inequities and disadvantages in our policies. This cannot be the case. The economic downturn will affect people living in poverty and low-income individuals greater and faster than other Canadians. We must not allow economic uncertainty to prevent action on reducing poverty; research shows that by providing training, education and child support now to those living in low-income situations, there will be an economic benefit over time as it lessens the strain on our health and social systems.

Residents of Prince Edward Island need to begin a discussion on how we are finally going to take a united and firm action on reducing poverty in our province, before the strain upon our social fabric and systems becomes unsustainable.

Christina MacLeod,
P.E.I. Poverty Reduction Network

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Judy Barrett of the St. Vincent de Paul Society Letter to the Guardian

Most recent statistics on cost of living in Canada shows an increase of 3.4% from this time last year in September 2007. (CBC Compass, Oct.24/08) What is more alarming is that Prince Edward Island's cost of living is even higher at 5.5% and this figure only takes into account shelter, clothing and some types of food. It does NOT include other items such as fuel, gas, and fruits and vegetables!

This does not surprise food banks and organizations that help those in need as many have seen an increase in the demand for assistance for food and clothing and, on a more regular bases. Unfortunately, contributions to aid in these worthwhile causes is on the decline as more and more Islanders and Canadians find themselves in tighter times and having to cut back to keep up with their own needs.

The definition of poverty is complicated and the stigma attached to the term leaves many denying the reality of the increasing number of Islanders who fit into this group. A significant proportion of Islanders classified as poor come from the employment sector but their family income plus benefits they receive ( if any) do not bring them up to the poverty line amount . The easiest way to define a poverty line amount is to say that it is barely sufficient money to live on. With this in mind, it is my wish that many will stop to rethink their prejudices on poverty and who is "impoverished". The reality is, any one of us could find ourselves in this unfortunate situation.

Along with the working poor, we have social programs and assistance programs that do not keep people out of poverty. Single mothers, unattached older individuals, seniors on fixed incomes, students carry loan debts, persons with work limiting disabilities , aboriginal people and recent immigrants all suffer from poverty. Poverty denies all these people access to adequate housing, essential goods and services, health, and just as importantly, hope and dignity. The daily struggle becomes a way of life. Our future are our children and, as many child care advocates will tell you, the most significant barrier to the healthy development of children is poverty.

Solutions to address poverty must involve the federal, provincial and municipal governments with input from community groups and members.
Eliminating poverty is not something that will happen quickly. More importantly, poor Islanders DO NEED to see that others care and they DO NEED to see some changes that can happen NOW to improve the quality of their lives. Groups like the newly formed Poverty Reduction Network brings together government, businesses, and community groups as well as individuals are working together to development short and long term efforts that will make a difference.

The recent costly and unnecessary federal election did not have poverty as a key issue in its campaign. It is little wonder that this election showed one of the lowest voter turnouts ever! This may be reflective of the hopelessness many Islanders and Canadians feel about government interest and incentives Governments seem more interested in looking after large businesses than the average struggling family. Infrastructure for tourism, sports and arts should not take precedent over people. The poor go unnoticed and most often they will not and do not speak for themselves.

Seeing first hand the struggle many Islanders face daily, groups like the Holy Redeemer St. Vincent DePaul Society that I am a member of, has led us to lobbying the provincial government to increase awareness of Islander needs. Asking for improvements to social assistance allowances (that are well below the amount needed to feed a family and to find decent accommodations), energy cost assistance to low income families, more efficient skills development programs, and reductions in provincial income tax rates for low income households are among our requests. We do receive positive feedback on these issues but the bureaucracy to initiate these changes are overwhelming and very time consuming. Efforts to bring about changes, often, only lead to more spending on reviews and consults while Islanders get poorer and poorer.

Governments do not always spend our tax dollars wisely and many feel we are overtaxed. I, for one, would feel much better about this reality if I knew my money was used more efficiently and put into programs that keep people warm and fed and hope for a brighter future.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Media Release-Stakeholders Join to Take Action on Poverty on PEI

Stakeholders Join to Take Action on Poverty on PEI


Islanders from diverse interest positions including government, business, community organizations and the public have joined together to create the PEI Poverty Reduction Network (PRN). The new initiative is made up of representatives of: the provincial government; the Greater Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce; the PEI Council on the Status of Women; Cooper Institute; the Council for People with Disabilities; Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI; the Société Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin; St. Vincent de Paul Society of Holy Redeemer Parish; newcomers’ community; and students.

“We saw the need for a strong group of stakeholders to begin to create some momentum on poverty as the statistics have shown that things have not improved and are actually getting worse across Canada,” stated Charlottetown MP Shawn Murphy.

The group that has met numerous times, beginning in January 2008, is looking at creative policies for all PRN members to sign on to and strategies to raise the issue to one of utmost importance for all governments to address. “We have known for sometime that there is not just one thing that needs to be changed to reduce poverty but a number of actions and policy at all levels. Changes in public policy along with change in community attitudes are essential in this process. There has been great work done in other jurisdictions such as Quebec and Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island has much to learn from their poverty strategies,” commented Marie Burge of Cooper Institute.

“There is great potential here to influence government decision makers towards proactive changes. With the tough economic concerns that are arising this is the best time to start taking action to help individuals and families living with the realities of poverty,” argued Judy Barrett, a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Holy Redeemer Parish.


For Information:

Marie Burge