The scourge of poverty

It is well established that poverty has a strong correlation with life expectancy.  It is one of the big holes in the government’s reasoning behind their plan to increase the age of eligibility for OAS. The government used numbers that tied the life expectancy of wealthier baby boomers to the need of those who aren’t as well off monetarily and came up with a false projection to justify their actions.

Poverty statistics are at the heart of a Canadian Medical Association report which was released in July.  It clearly states that poverty is the main issue that must be addressed to improve the health of Canadians and eliminate health inequities.  This is not good news in a country where the gap between rich and poor is growing, as the middle class vanishes and more people are forced to work at low paying jobs with insufficient benefits and non-existent pensions.   

The CMA report, What Makes Us Sick?, suggests that eliminating childhood poverty would go a long way to achieving a healthier population and that the country can do a better job of creating the conditions to increase a persons’ chance of being healthy.  The big issues that will help towards that goal relate to poverty, homelessness, early childhood development and food security.

If the issues seem old and tired it is because there has been little headway made to cut into the patterns that create and entrench poverty in this country.  It is a fact that since 1990, the richest group of Canadians has increased its share of total national income, while the poorest and middle-income groups has lost share. 

It is no coincidence that this occurred in the shadow of the false promise of trickle-down economics that took complete hold of North American politics.  The theory promised that more wealth at the top of society would create opportunity for those not well off; that the investments of the wealthy would increase opportunity across the board.  Not only has it failed to do that, but the loosening of financial regulations that flowed from the ideal created the conditions for the global economic crisis we are still feeling today.

The CMA report notes that there is no one fix for tackling poverty to improve health.  It will require a joint effort involving health care providers, governments, patients, and Canadians from all backgrounds.  That said, the federal government has a big role in its capacity as the steward of universal health care and as chief pick-pocket who over-taxes hard-working (and underpaid) Canadians to reward the wealthiest with sweetheart rates and perpetuate the trickle-down myth.

The CMA recommendation that a guaranteed-annual-income approach for dealing with poverty be evaluated and tested through a major pilot project sounds like an idea that deserves a thorough investigation.  It is doubtful that the current government is agreeable to such a project unless public opinion forces their hand.  With enough voices added to the call, a real attempt to tackle poverty will be unavoidable.  That would be good for the health of Canadians and their democracy.