February 22, 2012

Raising a Red Flag

Poverty is one of those high priority, red flag issues.

Poverty is an economic issue.  More than being only about the financial plight of those experiencing poverty, it is a financial issue for everyone.  It costs all of us more to live with poverty in our society than it does to eradicate it.  For example, recently Action to End Poverty in Alberta and Vibrant Communities Calgary issued a report called "Poverty Costs" that determined it currently costs Albertans between $7.1 - $9.5 Billion each year in perpetuation of poverty that could be better spent towards reduction of poverty.  "Poverty Costs" Report

Poverty is a social issue.  As a consequence of poverty, significant portions of the population effectively become second rate citizens due to unequal access with respect participating in society.  This inequality is exacerbated due to the untruths, stigma and myths propagated regarding those living in poverty.  Contrary to popular misconception, most people in poverty are not lazy bums in the street.  They are single parents, seniors, working poor, people with disabilities, and much more.  Except for a good break here or a blessing there, it could be any one of us who finds themselves in dire circumstances.  Turning again to Alberta, Canada's richest province per capita, almost 300,000 people find themselves in poverty (i.e. nearly 10% of the population), including 73,000 children.  And, of course, there are at least as many individuals and families hovering within an all too easy reach of poverty.

Poverty is a justice issue.  Access to food, clean water, and shelter are basic human rights.  In order for each of us to stand a chance of reaching our potential, we should also add education, basic health care, and sanitation to this list.  Of course, this is not new as many of these are specifically enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as codified through a variety of laws.  To have one's basic rights unsatisfied, as is the case for those in poverty, is an injustice of the highest order.

Poverty is a spiritual issue.  Our society is founded upon Judeo-Christian values, a central tenet of which is compassion for those in need.  Of course, all major faiths as well as many schools of thought outside of religious traditions have compassion as a foundational element.  According to these traditions and schools of thought, as members of the human family each of us has some connection, and thereby some responsibility, to the basic well being of others.

Poverty is a moral issue.  Our world has the resources to eradicate poverty.  In the developed world, as described above with respect to Alberta, it often costs less to eliminate poverty than it does to service it.  In the developing world, it has been estimated that everyone could have enough food, health care, clean water and education for an additional cost equivalent to less than 10% of what the world spends annually on military. Katherine Marshall (Senior Fellow at the Berkley Centre for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs) has recently described poverty as the "scandal of our times because it can be changed."

We need to make poverty a political issue.  Nothing will change unless our government is responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable.  Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that our elected leaders must be on board in order to bring about the circumstances for poverty elimination.  For all of the above reasons, we need to let our representatives know that poverty is a priority issue.  Poverty is also a non-partisan issue.  Regardless of our respective political leanings, we need to encourage our government to adopt a poverty reduction strategy.  Case studies in other jurisdictions have proven that poverty reduction only happens when a plan is adopted.  Let's raise our voices to eradicate poverty.  It will benefit all of us.

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

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