(Published Wednesday, May 20 in The Chronicle Herald)
It’s election time and the economy is at the top of the political agenda. Our leaders agree Nova Scotians need more jobs and that government intervention is required to help our province through economic hard times. Where, then, is the discussion of poverty?
Poverty is, without question, a major drain on our economy. It imposes large costs on our health care system and other public services. It keeps people from realizing their human potential and contributing fully to economic and social life.
Poverty is connected to other forms of social inequality. The majority of Canada’s poor are women, and you are more likely to be poor if you are a single mother, aboriginal, from a visible minority community, or living with a disability.
Poverty is not inevitable or natural; it is structural and linked to policies made by governments. In Nova Scotia, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated through a less-than-living minimum wage, a federal Employment Insurance policy that discriminates against women and the insecurely employed, inadequate income assistance, barriers to education and training for single mothers, lack of affordable housing, transportation and child care, and other programs and policies that have the effect of legislating inequality.
Once we recognize that poverty is policy-created, we must ask: Is this acceptable? If poverty could be eradicated through progressive policies and legislation — and it could — then what are we waiting for?
Until we demand that our politicians recognize and address the root causes of poverty, people and communities will continue to suffer and our province will not live up to its potential. We need to elect a government that will be committed to reducing and preventing socio-economic inequality through concrete measures. Our leaders must take immediate action to address the real needs of people living in poverty in Nova Scotia.
Eradicating poverty is an economic and social investment that cannot be put off any longer.
Betsy MacDonald, Women’s Centres Connect, Antigonish