Poverty is about more than income inequality, or income support. Being poor means that one or more of the basic needs of life are not being met, it can also mean social isolation. This page focuses on poverty as the “systems that keep people poor”.

Key issues:
child poverty
women's poverty
energy poverty
absolute poverty
developing nation
global poverty

Related Issues:
AIDS, foreign policy, domestic policy, unemployment, employment, underemployment, mental health, education, welfare.

Related Orgainzations:
United Nations, Make Poverty History, Unicef, Oxfam

Related issues:
social justice diversity. gender equity women, children, immigration

[+] Facts about poverty in Canada

[+] Why do people experience low income?

[+] Lone Parent families and low income

Position: we must take a multi-faceted approach against poverty.

Position: The econommy should serve the people.

Rather than people being subservient to the economy, the economy should provide for human needs within the natural limits of the earth. Local self-reliance to the greatest practical extent is the best way to achieve this goal.

We are living in a very different context than when our social security system was set up. At that time, it was not unreasonable to expect that a single adult could easily get a job with enough security and benefits to support a family through its lifetime. This is no longer the case.

Global restructuring in the labour market has resulted in fewer full-time and permanent jobs. Corporations cut jobs or ship them overseas as cost-saving measures.

Thus, many people who do not work do so because society has no need of their work, and they have no need of the extra income it could provide. In such cases, whose interests are served by forcing them into a job which provides them with no fulfillment, and which serves only to feed into endless, infinite economic growth? such cancerous processes are called uneconomic growth. It is time to value work that does not result in a paycheque. For example: child care, artists, volunteers.

Position Paper: Society enables and sustains poverty

"How can we make sure that the lazy, ie. no good, people will not take advantage of the system?"

Suspicion about people's good natures (assumptions that they will cheat the system, etc) is a direct product of the consumer-oriented, individual (as opposed to community) centred morality that is prevalant in North America. It's based on the "American Dream" - that every person can be rich if only they work hard enough. Closely related to this, but often unspoken, is that if any person is not rich, it is simply because they haven't worked hard enough (and therefore are not 'worth' much as a human being). This assumption is implicit in the whole discourse about welfare cheating.

It is possible to develop policy based on the premise that some people are good, and some people are bad. I believe that we are all people. We are basically good, but we are all capable of doing "bad" things. This position leads to the basic Green position that everyone is included. No one is excluded from the community.

Anti-poverty programs enable people to make healthy and sustainable choices. For example, few people particularly want to drive huge, gas-guzzling, falling-apart automobiles, but for many, the price of a new (or replacement) car is simply out of reach. Fresh organic produce is nothing more than an impossible dream to many inhabitants of Canada's cities. People with low incomes are often forced by circumstance (and lured by Wal-Mart) to purchase items that are products of a long chain of environmental degradation and exploitation of the underprivileged in other parts of the world. The "food" that is commonly available to those living from paycheque to paycheque is often so overprocessed and nutritionally void as to be barely worthy of the name.

Kathleen Norris said:
"History demonstrates repeatedly, that if enough people begin to define themselves as "good" in contrast to others who are "bad", those others come to be seen as less than human."

We need to confront the stereotypes and prejudices around poverty. With the exception of a few pockets of extreme poverty, like the homeless and first nations communities, all of the old stereotypes are outdated. These examples of extreme poverty are rooted in more complex issues, like systemic racism and the collapse of the mental health system, which need to be dealt with separately.

The majority of those who live below the poverty line in Canada are young and under employed but not un-employed. There education levels are at or slightly above the national average because they are disproportionately young. There use of alcohol and drugs is at or near national rates as well. The current system dose little or nothing to help this group.

Of those that are un-employed and receiving social assistance you will find that education rates are slightly below average and drug and alcohol use is around average. The bureaucratic nature of current system is what often traps people in this group. For example if a welfare recipient can find a part time job, that will not cover some but not all of there expenses, they face the possibility that their check will be delayed for weeks while case workers figure out how much they will claw back, in the mean time rent must be paid and food must be bought.

It is true that people can become trappped in the system, but it is more likely due to the dehumanizing conditions experienced by those on government assistance. Their income is so low that they are unable to participate in their community, let alone go to school or otherwise improve their future chances.

The perception of social assistance recipients as layabouts, cheaters and drunks is largely a product of perceptions and representations in mainstream media and discourse. Nobody will need food stamps because everyone will have enough. Everyone is included. Everyone is a person, a citizen.

Anti-poverty programs are nonetheless difficult for political parties to address. Whatever the program, there is a large potential of "perceived" abuse. It is often difficult to sell to voters, and can take only one or two cases to turn the public against them.

The public has, in the past, certainly shown itself willing to be swept up in anti-poor rhetoric. The Harris Tories, with no small assistance from the media, garnered enormous support by whipping up anger against the faceless poor in Ontario who were allegedly taking the taxpayer for a ride.

However, there are signs of growing public support for the rights of the very poor to live with dignity. The case of Kimberly Rodgers illustrates this. Seven months pregnant, she was placed under house arrest for the crime of collecting a student loan while also collecting welfare. She died alone in her house on date.

The good news is, there was an enormous public outcry. People are starting to see this sort of dehumanizing treatment for the reprehensible injustice that it is. (more examples ...) The Green Party assumes that people will make positive choices if we give them the opportunity to. In the context of our larger platform, the circumstances that lead to the scapegoating of our weakest members should not exist.

Postion: Rewrite the social contract

Most people would agree that the social contract means that for every "right" there is a corresponding responsibility. If we increase the rights, should we also define what increased responsibilities are part of the bargain?

Preamble to the UNHCR International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (to which Canada is a signatory):

People do have "rights" that are independent of their employment or economic status, these rights derive from "the inherent dignity of the human person." Basic income is an expedient way to ensure these rights are honoured.

Social assistance should not be made conditional upon some increased responsibility from the recipient. "Workfare" programs in Canada as well as in the United States have been criticized for violating fundamental human dignity (if not human rights). They have also not been demonstrated to improve recipients' future economic possibilities or quality of life.

Furthermore, expecting an increased responsibility from "them" belies the different expectations we hold for people of different socio-economic strata. The Green Party assumes that people everyone participates in the social contract to the best of their ability. To impose extra 'responsibility' upon those granted the 'right' of a basic income underlines this assumption that low-income people are not earning a place in society. The flip side of this is that people who have enough money that they don't need social assistance have, automatically, somehow earned their way in. This runs directly contrary to the Green Party's commitment to community-based economics:

Position: Restructure current programs to produce funds for alternative programs

Position: Have the government be the employer of last resort.

The government should offer a "GoodWorks" option, a completely voluntary employment option doing activities that are socially/environmentally beneficial but that the marketplace does not recognize as important. This option is designed for those who cannot get jobs or hold jobs, and do not want to participate in a formal welfare exit plan, yet who want to keep active/networking while collecting welfare. For participants, there would also be a special annual bonus incentive in the form of tuition credits for the participants or relatives/children.

Argument - con

The above idea is too controlling. We should assume that, given the assumptions about people's inherent natures and desire to enhance their lives that are made at the beginning of this document, once freed from the stresses of poverty, people will tend to fill their lives with voluntary employment options.