Food banks not the answer

Parents choosing not to eat so their children can. People juggling bills, trying to decide which to leave unpaid.

Parents choosing not to eat so their children can.

People juggling bills, trying to decide which to leave unpaid.

Families spending 80 per cent of their funds on rent, leaving next to nothing for anything else.

Poverty has many faces and comes in all shapes and sizes. Few people are immune.

When I think of the realities of poverty, I can’t help but remember 2001, when a new provincial government had been elected and was making changes to social programs. I was working in New Westminster, a city of contrasts, with the stately wealth of the Royal City’s Queen’s Park and the glaring poverty and addictions of other parts of town.

Working at a newspaper in such a city, we would see many people struggling with poverty, mental health issues or addictions come in to the newspaper office as their last resort. Often all three problems would go together. Unlike physical illnesses, people with mental illnesses were somehow expected to be able to heal from a debilitating condition without adequate nutrition while living in a cold, nasty, substandard room.

I remember interviewing the government minister responsible for social assistance, which had been cut and changed in an effort to weed out bad apples, thus saving taxpayer dollars. I told him of the case of a parent who simply couldn’t afford child care and housing, despite trying to work two jobs – not an unusual circumstance. I asked what the minister would say to her, given her impossible situation. His words: “I wish her well.”

His wishes understandably fell flat.

His approach sounded frighteningly similar to that of Bob Plecas, who just did a review for Premier Christy Clark of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Along with recommending the ministry get more money and a restructuring, he suggested less oversight from the independent representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, an outspoken advocate. Hear no evil, see no evil, apparently.

The First Call Coalition, which has been tracking child poverty in B.C. for years, just issued its 2015 report card. It calls on both the provincial and federal governments to do their part.

While it’s no secret that the citizens and organizations of Salmon Arm are among the most generous, always rising to the challenge, that help is simply not enough. Food banks shouldn’t be expected to be our go-to approach to poverty.

Among its 21 recommendations, the report card highlights the need for affordable housing, fairer tax systems and regulations that would benefit the poor, and a minimum wage that isn’t the second-lowest in Canada.

While there is $8 billion available from the province for the Site C dam whose long-term benefits have been questioned by many, investing in people by fighting poverty is a no-brainer.

 

Poverty ends up costing so much in the long run – far more than spending money on its root causes would. And, ultimately, ending the suffering is the human thing to do.

 

 

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