Six big changes could put an end to poverty

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Sarah Petrescu’s series in The Times Colonist on poverty and homelessness made a valuable contribution to public awareness about the realities that people living in poverty have to live with every day.

Her final part, Big problem, small changes, laid out small changes that could help, such as raising income assistance rates. It’s a big problem, however, so here are some big changes that could contribute to a future in which there is no poverty at all, except the voluntary simplicity of those who want to live with a minimal footprint on the Earth.

A $15 Minimum Wage

In June 2014, after a yearlong campaign by fast-food workers and poverty activists, Seattle City Council voted to approve a $15 minimum wage, phased in over 3-10 years depending on the size of the business. In November, San Francisco followed suit. The campaigns produced plenty of debate, and there were threats that some businesses might fold, but in the end, the campaign succeeded. If Seattle, why not Victoria?

Affordable Housing

The cost of housing is a real challenge for anyone living on a low income. We could require developers to make 20% of their units affordable and create incentives to build 100% rental buildings, as Vancouver does. We could require developers to sell 10% of their units at cost to an Affordable Housing Agency, which is how Whistler solved its housing crisis. We could double the tax on properties left empty; make it legal for more than five people to share a house together; allow the construction of car-free laneway housing; and create tax-free retirement funds which can be invested in affordable housing.

Affordable Food

Seattle has 82 neighbourhood allotment gardens where 6,000 people grow their own food. In Victoria, the land adjacent to View Street Towers at Fort and Quadra has sat vacant for at least 25 years. That could change, if Victoria City Council wrote an appropriate by-law. In Toronto, The Stop Food Bank is teaching people how to grow their own food and cook cheap nutritious meals together. We could do that too, something The Mustard Seed is actively exploring.

Affordable Daycare

Parents pay up to $1,000 a month per child for daycare so that they can go to work. Every $1 invested in a child before the age of 6 saves $9 in future spending on health, welfare and justice systems, so we should go ahead and invest in a $10 a day daycare system as many are advocating, including the Surrey Board of Trade.

Free Post-Secondary Education

Student debt is a major burden, and a major inhibitor against investing in an education. Most universities in Germany are now free, and in Oregon, the State Legislature will debate a serious proposal this summer to make post-secondary education free, financed by a 3-5% post-graduation levy on a graduate’s income for 20 years. Why not here in Canada, too?

An Inheritance Tax

In his ground-shaking book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the French economist Thomas Piketty showed why poverty and inequality are increasing, since private capital is growing at a much faster rate than the economy as a whole. To those who have, more shall be given, unless, Piketty concluded, there is a tax on capital. When parents own property, their children generally inherit their wealth. When parents can only afford to rent, their children inherit nothing, so poverty gets passed from one generation to the next. An inheritance tax could begin to fix that, along with other tax reforms, including stamping down on the offshore havens that are storing as much as $32 trillion in tax-avoiding wealth.

It is shocking that among Canada’s province and territories, only British Columbia and Saskatchewan do not have a strategy to tackle poverty; that BC has Canada’s second worst child poverty rate; and that among BC’s 188 municipalities, only Surrey has made the effort to develop a poverty reduction plan.

Where is the imagination of our leaders? We could be exploring options for a basic income guarantee, as the economist Milton Friedman and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King have recommended, and as Switzerland is seriously considering. We could be encouraging worker-owned co-operatives and workplace share-ownership. We could be creating a Collateral Partnership Fund that would enable First Nations to borrow money to start new businesses the way the rest of us do. We could be seeking solutions to the problem of low-income dental care.

Come on, elected leaders. You can do better than this.

Guy Dauncey is a local author, speaker and futurist, and founder of the BC Sustainable Energy Association.

First published in The Times Colonist, January 6th 2015.

Follow-up Action

Make Poverty History: www.makepovertyhistory.ca

Canada Without Poverty: www.cwp-csp.ca

BC Poverty Reduction Coalition: http://bcpovertyreduction.ca

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2 thoughts on “Six big changes could put an end to poverty

  1. Preaching these six big changes is all fine and dandy when the majority of the population is well feed and sheltered ( Maslow’s basic needs ) and ready for higher transcendence in gentrification while poverty and homelessness is being pushed out of the downtown core of cities like Vancouver to make room for big business and glass tower gentrification which was pretty well predicted and summed up decades ago like in 1923 by sociologists like Parks and Burgess via University of Chicago’s Urban ecology theories of concentric circles. What have we done about it say since 1923?
    Hence while we collectively “hee haw” about poverty mostly around Christmas time, it keeps getting pushed out to the outer circles and suburbs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentric_zone_model. Many states like Utah are trying to end homelessness by giving the homeless a home and proper surroundings to make a go of their lives http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/30/utah-homelessness-rate-plummets_n_987695.html while other cities and their officials are afraid that cities will become magnets for the homeless and the poor.
    Funny the gentrified and the rich are never labelled as being attracted to big cities and glass tower condos. If the poor and homeless want to live in cities and in proper homes, the facilities and opportunities should be made available to them instead of being pushed out to the burbs or Whistler. Cute but no cigar!
    The six big changes apply mostly to people that are still in the job market as the working poor being nickled and dimed. For the homeless, having no home means having no address, hence no jobs or social welfare. With no home, you can never get a minimum or living wage nor get back on your feet. Having proper clothes and a bath are essential in getting a job in our cleanliness is godliness world which nobody talks about but expects. Hence the art of disqualifying homeless people: a game people play but never admit.
    It is totally shameful that in America and Canada, people, organizations and elected officials still play petty politics with poverty and homelessness while wasting billions of dollars on wars. Hazel Henderson showed us a long time ago (1994) that only 24.9% of the money wasted on the war budget would sustain all of the social services, health care and education needs worldwide http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_a/interact/www.worldgame.org/wwwproject/. Imagine what we would be able to do if we recuperated 100% of the war budgets of the world which are fought, planned and caused by a male dominated population which seems to never get enough of conflict and perpetual wars in their lives and need to invent more wars while young boys grow up to become frustrated and sociopath adults running violent wars, big business, the country and the world into the ground while dying for their simple minded causes that waste fortunes that can be uses to alleviate poverty and homelessness. It’s like we are all caught in a Sisyphus cycle or the symbolic monkey trap unable to let go of the symbolic banana or stop re-climbing the mountain holding a rock heavier than us.
    Obviously better education is needed for males that keep these dysfunctional policies and belief in cycles and myths about poverty and homelessness alive and while destroying lives. People who want to change the face of poverty have had the above solutions proposed by Hazel Henderson since she published “Paths to sustainable development” which excerpts appeared in Futures magazine of March 1994.
    Obviously, people in positions of power implementing decisions to abolish poverty and homelessness have been dragging their feet ever since and for a long long time entertaining their myths and personal views about poverty and homelessness in the midst of simple solutions. But today, these same people have found that they can continue dragging their feet with Complexity theories and now the new one being the myth of Monetary Scarcity needing austerity measures. It needs a good imagination to continue dragging one’s feet in solving poverty and homelessness. It seems that the more countries prosper like the USA, China and India the more poverty and homelessness increases like their insane profits or male pissing contest.
    Upton Sinclair wrote that “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary ( and job) depends upon his not understanding it.”

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