Government Must Be Accountable for the Costs of Poverty

By Ted Bruce

A report on the rising poverty rate among new immigrants to Canada ran side by side with an article on BC’s version of austerity as the government moves to deal with a declining economic situation.

The report on poverty notes that the failure to address this rising poverty sets up a “tinderbox” of discontent. A similar message has been repeatedly stated by the public health community. There is ample evidence as demonstrated by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket and documented so well in their book The Spirit Level that societies with high levels of economic inequality perform very poorly. And it is clear that the public wants government to address poverty as is shown by the recent polling done by the BC Healthy Living Alliance.

Is government’s “austerity” response the solution? Governments that essentially ignore poverty reduction policies say that they can’t afford them or that policies related to job creation will be the best solution to the problem. The economists can debate this but there is ample evidence that the cost of poverty is greater than the cost of the investments that could alleviate it. The study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (supported by PHABC) provides a startling analysis of the costs of not acting.

But even if politicians believe their austerity and trickle down growth paradigm is correct, they have an obligation to demonstrate that it works. So why not set some timelines and targets as has been called for by public health organizations like PHABC and the Health Officers Council of BC? If our elected officials believe they are building a better society for citizens through their policies, it is not asking too much for them to show us they can reduce poverty. Let’s measure it and report on it. That is not asking for too much.

Ted Bruce is the past-president of the PHABC


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