The politicians are still not talking about poverty. Do they really expect us to take them seriously as leaders? They want us to vote for them?
The only real attempt at poverty talk I am hearing is on the Basic Income Earth Network and I don’t know how much of this to believe.
Take for example the following statement:
“In Canada, children and seniors already have some form of basic income guarantee.”
That statement is simply not true.
I don’t know what children are receiving in terms of basic income guarantee but the OAS that seniors receive can hardly be called basic income. It does not come close to covering basics. The OAS of under $570 a month is all a senior is guaranteed. Anything more is welfare unless today’s seniors were fortunate enough to accumulate pensions during their working years. For many stay-at-home moms as well as other unpaid and jobless people this did not happen.
I wonder what the Honourable David A. Croll would have to say today.
The Croll Report
POVERTY IN CANADA
Report of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty
Special Senate Committee on Poverty
The Honourable David A. Croll, Chairman, Ontario
The Honourable Edgar E. Fournier, Vice-Chairman, New Brunswick
The Honourable Rheal Belisle, Ontario
The Honourable Chesley W. Carter, Newfoundland
The Honourable Harold Connolly, Nova Scotia
The Honourable Eric Cook, Newfoundland
The Honourable Raymond Eudes, Quebec
The Honourable Douglas D. Everett, Manitoba
The Honourable Muriel McQ. Fergusson, New Brunswick The Honourable Earl Hastings, Alberta ”
The Honourable Elsie F. Inman, Prince Edward Island The Honourable J. Eugene Lefrancois, Quebec
The Honourable Fred A. McGrand, New Brunswick
The Honourable Josie D. Quart, Quebec
The Honourable Arthur W. Roebuck, Ontario
The Honourable Herbert O. Sparrow, Saskatchewan
The following Senators also served on the Committee:
The Honourable John J. MacDonald, Prince Edward Island The Honourable Clement A. O’Leary, Nova Scotia (deceased) The Honourable Arthur M. Pearson, Saskatchewan
The Honourable John Nichol, British Columbia
Terms of Reference
On November 26, 1968, the Senate of Canada constituted the Special Senate Committee on Poverty by approving the following resolution:
That a Special Committee of the Senate be appointed to investigate and report upon all aspects of poverty in Canada, whether urban, rural, regional, or otherwise, to define and elucidate the problem of poverty in Canada, and to recommend appropriate action to ensure the establishment of a more effective structure of remedial measures;
That the Committee have power to engage the services of such counsel, staff, and technical advisers as may be necessary for the purpose of the inquiry;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, to examine witnesses, and to report from time to time;
That the Committee be authorized to print such papers and evidence from day to day as may be ordered by the Committee, to sit during sittings and adjournments of the Senate, and to adjourn from place to place.
The Committee was reconstituted by the Senate during the second and third sessions of the Twenty-Eighth Parliament on October 28, 1969, and October 8, 1970.
Poverty is the great social issue of our time. Unless we act now, nationally, in a new and purposeful way, five million Canadians will continue to find life a bleak, bitter, and never- ending struggle for survival.
The poor do not choose poverty. It is at once their affliction and our national shame. Unlike the poor of earlier days, they know how poor they are, and so they face the future with little hope and mounting anger. The children of the poor (and there are many) are the most helpless victims of all, and find even less hope in a society whose social-welfare system from the very beginning destroys their dreams of a better life. The grim fact is that one Canadian in four lacks sufficient income to maintain a basic standard of living.
No nation can achieve true greatness if it lacks the courage and determination to undertake the surgery necessary to remove the cancer of poverty from its body politic. Canadians as a whole cannot escape their share of responsibility for the situation in which this nation finds itself. At the same time there is encouraging evidence that our citizens are becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about the plight of those who find themselves in a state of privation in the midst of plenty.
The social-welfare structure so laboriously and painstakingly erected in Canada over the past forty years has clearly outlived its usefulness. The social scientists who have studied it, the bureaucrats who have administered it, and the poor who have experienced it are of one mind that in today’s swiftly-changing world the welfare system is a hopeless failure. The matter is not even controversial; everybody’s against it. But what is to take its place?
It was to this complex, many-faceted question that the Special Senate Committee on Poverty addressed itself over .the past three years. The Committee travelled the length and breadth of Canada on a fact-finding assignment without parallel in our history. Its members saw the tragedy of poverty at first hand; not in abstract terms but in the crucible of human experience. In many meetings with the poor, with social scientists, and with social-welfare organizations, the Committee amassed a wealth of material on which the recommendations of this report are based. The experiences related to the Committee at its many hearings from coast to coast illustrated and illuminated in graphic, human detail the statistical tables of the Economic Council of Canada.
The task entrusted to the Committee was to define and clarify the problem of poverty and to propose appropriate remedial action. A thorough study of so complex a problem would be an undertaking so vast that the Committee felt the poor could not be
asked to wait years for the help they so urgently need. It is with this thought in mind that the Committee decided to make some proposals for immediate action which, it hopes, will eliminate some of the major problems, while at the same time pointing the way to an eventual long-term solution.
The Committee’s unique confrontation with poverty in all its guises and its collection of invaluable first-hand evidence have combined to strengthen our belief that social justice has in fact been denied to the poor. Their human needs have not been fulfilled. The welfare system as it exists today is a chaotic accumulation of good intentions gone out of joint. We have been passionately wrong with a high sense of consistency. The fault lies in a lack of understanding of the basic causes of poverty and of its destructive effects on the whole community.
Nor does economic privation alone constitute the whole tragedy. It is merely one aspect of what is often a vicious circle. For the chronically unemployed, the unskilled, the poorly educated, the disadvantaged, infirm, aged, one-parent families, or inhabitants of depressed areas, poverty has become a way of life; an ugly sub-culture within Canadian society. Life is marked by frustration and hopelessness, by a sense of failure and, consequently, by despair and apathy. For those “On Welfare,” life is too often characterized by a sense of dependency and of fear, and of being trapped in a substandard environment. Generally, they have inferior educational, medical, cultural, and information services and lack the skill or knowledge to make use of many facilities available to the general public. The greatest tragedy is that of the children. Neglected by a society which has failed in its duty to provide the essential facilities, they lack the education, the opportunity, and often the motivation to escape from their environment.
The poor do not want to stay poor. They want a share in the good things of life and they want equal opportunities. For a variety of reasons, they are the losers in the race for material sufficiency, but they are no longer resigned to their lot.
Unemployment Insurance, Social Assistance, Family Allowances, Old Age Security, and all the other measures incorporated in the social structure, admirable though they are in concept, fall far short of what is needed. Welfare is the most uncontrolled budget item at any level of government. The welfare system as we have it in Canada today was never meant to supply the basic means of support for a sizeable and ever-growing proportion of Canadian families.
The system has, failed because it has treated the symptoms of poverty and left the disease itself untouched. It certainly does not reach the “working poor,” that vast army in the labour force whose income is grossly insufficient. This weakness is not the only fault of a system which is already disintegrating. A major weakness lies in the sterility of a system that promises much but gives little; it is a system that contributes to alienation and dehumanization. The welfare state has created an environment in which the individual loses his self-respect and becomes prey to agonizing frustration.
Basically, however, the welfare system has failed because it has largely ignored the human factors associated with poverty. The good intentions of the legislators to help the people have been distorted and diluted through the process of implementation. They have somehow become lost in a maze of constitutional jurisdictions, agency divisions, and numerous independent bureaucratic structures often more concerned with what is not their responsibility than with what is. As a result, help has been secured by recipients only at the cost of humiliation, loss of self-respect, the break-up of families, and the destruction of human dignity. The system has become an instrument of paternalism whereby recipients have been compelled to do what others thought was good for them, and to conform to middle-class norms that the poor themselves often have neither comprehended nor appreciated.
The whole welfare system, at all levels, costs Canadians more than six billion dollars a year, yet it has not significantly alleviated poverty let alone eliminated it. Welfare rolls have not diminished. The problems grow, costs go up and up and up and will, in time, suffocate the taxpayer.
The reasons for the system’s failure are many. Lack of determination and commitment by society as a whole are certainly fundamental factors. So too is the lack of understanding of the basic causes of poverty and its destructive effects on the whole community. We have forgotten the fact that the welfare system was designed merely as a supplement to the economic system. It provides for certain particular groups–the handicapped, the aged, the unemployed, and those unfortunates who are unable to support themselves. But it does not reach the working poor. Sixty per cent of the poor are not on welfare.
A new bill of rights for the poor must be preceded by a fundamental change in the prevailing public attitude towards those who live below the poverty level. Many cherished myths which helped give birth to the welfare system must be given final burial. One of these, that the poor are always with us, is a notion which the Committee categorically rejects. The economic system in which most Canadians prosper is the same system which creates poverty. Equally fallacious is the belief that economic growth could, in time, “solve” poverty. The evidence produced before the Committee showed that in the 1950s and 1960s (when Canada enjoyed great economic expansion), in absolute terms poverty in Canada increased at the same time and at a similar rate.
Another myth is that the poor pay relatively less in taxes than others. They pay less in income tax, but the proportion of their income which they pay in other forms of taxation is actually greater than the proportion of income paid out by the relatively well- off.
A new approach is urgently needed. Such an approach must bring help and relief at once to those in need, and it must provide the foundation for policies that will ultimately eliminate the causes of poverty from our society.