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A Poverty of Values and Priorities

When I read news stories like this, it makes me wonder how a society can be so advanced and yet have so completely lost its sense of values and direction.

Lisa Roberts and her 15-month old son are homeless and she is eight months pregnant. She and her son spend their days in libraries or in parks and their nights huddled under blankets sleeping in playgrounds. She is on welfare and is eligible for just over $1600 / month in benefits but cannot find a place to live for less than $800 which leaves little for food, transportation or child care.

She lives in the GTA where the waiting list for affordable housing is as long as twelve years and the shelters are full to over-flowing.

Landlords are reluctant to rent to people on welfare, especially those with small children because it has been their experience that they lose money and often have significant damage done to their property.

As tragic as Lisa Robert’s situation is the real tragedy is that her situation is not unique.

Child poverty is a real and present issue in Canada as is homelessness and poverty in general. It is a national disgrace that there are so many living in destitution in a country as rich as this. It is even more disgraceful that so many who have comfortable lives continue to demand more entitlements for themselves even as children, like 18 month old Liam Roberts, live and sleep in a park.

It isn’t just our priorities that are distorted, it is our willingness to see so many lives wasted and in many cases, even before they have really begun to be lived.

The Ontario government just awarded a 2% salary increase to elementary school teachers; pretty much all of whom are already well-paid and live in homes that are far more comfortable than sleeping under a playground structure. They awarded what amounts to a $6.00 / month increase to welfare recipients which will go a long way to accomplishing nothing other than assuage some a guilty conscience here and there.

For its part, the federal government under Stephen Harper considers the issue to be solely the responsibility of the provinces and the municipalities even as they hand out millions to people in other countries. Last week alone, the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced contributions of $250 million to aid Syrian refugees.

It makes you wonder if Lisa Roberts and her little boy might not be in better circumstance if they were Syrian rather than Canadian.

I don’t believe that anyone should simply live for free but we have created a welfare system that has nothing to do with helping people get back on their feet and become productive members of our society. Instead we hand out millions of dollars in pitiful little individual amounts that do nothing except perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

We invest billions in glamourous new transit programs when we’re not arguing over which type of transit we should build even as people around us, including children, are going to bed hungry and don’t know from where their next meal is coming.

We argue incessantly a partisan politics instead of taking our heads out of our asses and remembering that before we are progressives or conservatives, we’re bloody Canadians and Canadians don’t turn their backs on those in need.

We have lost our way, my friends. While there are many who donate money and their time to helping the poor, as a nation we haven’t got a clue or the values to get one.

We have corporate welfare to bail out companies and to increase benefits to union members. We have money for grandiose schemes and and we have money to waste on bickering and gamesmanship. We just don’t seem to have enough money or enough smarts to effectively address the poverty on our doorstep.

Quebec gives the middle class $7 / day daycare paid for with borrowed  money and transfer payments from Ottawa while other children live in shelters and parks.

Ontario squandered half a billion (which is the equivalent of 2.4 million weekly groceries for a family of four) cancelling two power plants to save two seats in an election.

In the city near where I live, construction of a bridge has been halted at a cost of a few million because an empty barn swallow nest has been found and the barn swallows might return to use it. Barn swallows are an endangered species and we can justify spending millions to protect them. Apparently children are not an endangered species and we can’t justify a national program to protect them and raise them out of poverty.

Across the country and in virtually every city, it is the same thing. Everything is more important than poverty. We pay lip service to it. We throw some dollars at it but we have no strategy from start to finish to lift other Canadians from the poverty in which they are trapped.

It’s easy to dismiss the poor as being shiftless and lazy because some are shiftless and lazy but not the majority and especially not children. Too many are caught in a downward cycle that perpetuates their situation and there is little in the way of support to help them to both get the essentials they need to live and to put together a plan for lifting them out of the poverty they endure and we ignore.

I never drive into the city that I am not approached by more than a few begging for spare change.

Imagine that. Begging for money has become the norm in Canada where once we thought of it as being the sole province of impoverished countries with large slums and crumbling economies.

I don’t care where anyone stands on this issue or how anyone tries to rationalize it or explain it away. There is no excuse – and I mean absolutely no excuse – for an 8-month pregnant woman with an 18 month old son to be living in city parks in this country!

Try remembering that the next time you drop by Starbucks for your $5.00 double mocha latte or Tim Horton’s for your double-double and apple fritter. ., ,

. . .and then tell me again what it was about the UN’s criticism of poverty levels in Canada that made so many of us think it was unfair and unjustified.

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  • Randy

    And as everyone is talking about whether a child who is sleeping under a bridge is in poverty or “child poverty”, the child is going to sleep hungry under a bridge. Along with thousands of other children, young adults and adults. I have always felt that we should look after our own before helping people in other countries. It is not a sign of prosperity when the less fortunate have nothing to eat and no place to sleep. It is in-excusable that this can happen in one of the wealthiest countries in
    the world. No matter how it is worded.
    I am always curious how is it that people can afford half million dollar homes, drive
    SUV’s, go on tropical holidays, but yet every food bank and drop in shelter is wanting for funds. We are a cold detached money grubbing selfish lot.
    This is not a bitter rant, just a disappointed one. We could do so much better.
    It is not always the government that should step in and provide funding.

    • MaggiesBear

      I believe that there are many Canadians who have stepped up and tried to help. The volunteers and contributions to food banks and other organizations that work with the poor are testament to that. But we pay government a considerable amount in taxes only to see it squandered through misguided and mismanaged programs. We remove the humanity from it to make it easier to deal with but you’re right. In the end, we have people living in our streets and in our parks, children going to bed hungry because we squabble over semantics and while too many of us demand even more entitlements.

      I honestly don’t know if it is disappointment or bitterness I feel but I know there is a considerable amount of anger behind whatever it is. A pregnant woman is sleeping under playground equipment in a park in the GTA and we’re arguing about what to call poverty. Its unbelievable.

  • Wandering Mind

    It is a matter of values which have been hijacked by politics and political correctness Gay marriage (with which I have no issue) trumps child poverty. Wage hikes and escalating legacy costs (pension costs) trumps child poverty. Ever escalating art programs trump child poverty. Inefficient health care trumps child poverty. Taxpayer funded festivals, fairs and exhibitions trump child poverty. Diversity programs funded by taxpayer trump child poverty. Ethnic and gender studies programs trump child poverty. I could go on but you get the point.

    What makes me laugh is how everyone is so earnest when they speak so piously of their own ‘values’ and ‘morality even as they cash government checks (which are heartbreakingly never enough).

    Shame on us for allowing this and shame on the recipients of government largesse for putting greed over need.

    • MaggiesBear

      Amen to that

  • Pingback: A Poverty of Values and Priorities | Grumpy Opinions()

  • sebanders

    On this Bear I agree 110%, especially the part about the Canadian Governments, past and present, because of some ridiculous “international obligations” for better international relations, feel the must share our wealth and contribute billions of dollars to helping other nations, most of which hardly ever get to the people for whom it is intended – yet We – the government, of all colours and stripes, do not learn our lessons from experience.

    However, there is one reference you make that sticks in my throat and does every time any one makes that same reference.

    For some reason, perhaps due to something I fail to understand, I really have a problem with the reference to “child poverty”. As I see it, unless these children are on their own and destitute on the street, they have parents or guardians. And if they are poor it is because their parents or guardians are poor. Perhaps it is just a phrase invented by the progressive left to make us feel guilty by only making reference to the plight of the children rather than that of the family. But I cannot imagine child poverty as something other than family poverty. So, what is the intention by such reference? Do we offer help for the children and ignore the obvious needs of the poor family? What kind of society does that?

    I understand your anger at the plight of this woman and her children and I concur. But the debate is such a can of worms that most people are not willing to seriously engage in it with the serious intention of resolving it. There is much too much humming and hawing going on about it in the City Halls and provincial legislations and not much being offered in ways of solutions.

    In the City of Ottawa for instance, there are, according to Lowell Green, 32 different staffed (not volunteers) organizations operating on substantial budgets, all dealing with the “homeless” in Ottawa where it is estimated there are about 1000 homeless people on a more or less continuous basis. If I recall correctly, together, they get enough taxpayer dollars annually, to build each of these people a comfortable home (better than my own) and get them off the streets. And yet, the homeless are still there, on the streets. And the 32 organizations are still there constantly figuring out ways to justify their continued existence, so as not to put all those people out of work. And the song and dances go on. But what are the people of Ottawa doing about it. Hohum. Yawn.

    • MaggiesBear

      The simple truth is that much of the money that is thrown at the poverty industry by government contributes to the salaries and operating costs of organization like the 32 to which you refer. I don’t doubt the sincerity or the efforts of the people on the ground, it is the overall approach that is absurd. You can’t fix something by spending more on bureaucracy.

      The term child poverty is a very real term and not one that was invented by progressives. Children, including orphans, are at serious risk in this country. There is no excuse for any child to go to bed hungry or to go to school and have to receive breakfast there. None! This country is too rich to abide such abject ambivalence to the poverty of so many of its own citizens.

      If you wish to take exception to the phrase child poverty, that’s your privilege but I think we need to start calling things what they are instead of hiding behind meaningless politically correct senabtucs that remove the humanity from the issue

      And the simple reality is that when a family is poor — it is the children who suffer most.

      • sebanders

        To an extent, I do not disagree. But generally, in most of the references I have seen and heard about “child poverty”, at least in this country, it is almost always made in the context of exclusion of the family reality and too often to make the parents the culprits as being the ones who are the cause of their children’s poverty and therefore not deserving of even a mention in the condition of “poverty”. I agree that children are victims of poverty, more so than are adults. But poverty is poverty and we need to approach the problem from that perspective and that perspective alone.

        Otherwise we slide into that societal pitfall of breaking it all down by categories as has happened with so many other social ailments. And it already has. We have women poverty, racial poverty, religious poverty, teen poverty, addict poverty, etc.

        Some can be helped, and some cannot. Some want to be helped, others do not. Perhaps I see the universe through a different prism. But to me, poverty is poverty, and it should be “treated as such”. And in this country, except for those who actually chose that as a life style for whatever reason, there really is no excuse for poverty to exist.

        But it does. Which shows our failure as a society.

        • MaggiesBear

          Child poverty has been identified by the fact that children have no means to protect themselves. They are victims of circumstance over which they have no control and no options available to them. All decisions that affect them are made by adults. It is different from all other forms of poverty.

          • Gerry

            But seganders is correct; in order for there to be something labelled “child poverty” it must be the child that is in poverty in and of him or herself. It is a dodge to separate the child from the family (even if it is a single parent) as though the adult was not in the room. Yes, children do live in poverty and that is the correct way to talk about this issue but to call it “child poverty” is, as seganders, correctly surmised a progressive maneuver to justify higher welfare payments. Been in the poverty stats game a very long time. At my age I have been in a lot of things a long time but the point here is that research done in the 80’s (I think – wobbly on date not on results) demonstrated that people had no problem with supporting children but they sure had an issue with supporting adults. Ergo, the progressive mind concludes let’s call it “child poverty” and market that. Which they did and now you do.

            That being said, your core point stands. I did read the linked article and I am reminded of Bjorn Lomborg’s observation that if the nations of the world took the money they were fruitlessly spending on combatting global warming they could provide clean drinking water to every person on earth. Having worked overseas I have first hand experience with what polluted drinking water can do and I am angry. Very angry that politicians look after their ‘market share’ or whatever at the expense of one child let alone thousands. And that is the point. I think Christ said “You do onto the least of these you do it onto me” and I can only hope that those responsible for doing onto these children will face justice – not our facade of it but the Almighty’s implacable justice. No spin there.

            • MaggiesBear

              This is precisely the kind of argument over semantics that distracts us from the real issues and implementing solutions to those issues. The fact is that regardless of whether you call it poverty or I call it child poverty, the simple fact is that thousands of children in this country live in poverty and arguing over the label is the same kind of pointless nonsense that have led our governments to fail so miserable on just about every major issue we face.

              Christ in Heaven. We have children and their families living in poverty. Let’s deal with that instead of arguing about bloody labels.

              • Gerry

                Totally disagree. Sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking and analysis and even worse responses. Poverty is a slop bucket for a multitude of issues and the overall term is essentially useless. One needs to get down to what the specific issue is to determine what the specific and effective response will be. By using a generic label one is led, due to sloppy language and sloppy emotive thinking, to a one size fits all approach which serves no one but the service providers.

                At no time have I blamed the victim as you seem to suggest and I also have spent far too long looking at this issue both in this country and in others to let umbrage trump rational thought. You go your way; I’ll go mine.

                • MaggiesBear

                  I have little use for intellectual elitists with superiority complexes who hide the real issue behind soft, fuzzy language. that removes the humanity from the issue. This post was about a pregnant woman sleeping with her 18 month old son under playground equipment in the largest metropolitan region in Canada. It is not an abstract debate about labels. It’s small wonder that we get so little accomplished in this country when this is the best that can be brought to the discussion.

                • Gerry

                  I waited a day before responding to your ad hominem attack as I actually think you have talent and a role to play in changing how we look at things. I am prepare to work with you on that but have no time for posturing and intellectual dishonesty – yes dishonesty. You wanted to label the ‘problem’ as child poverty yet provided no answer to how to solve it. I challenged your label as being one which misdirects from a functional solution and you imply that I am an intellectual elitist with a superiority complexes? It is you who seems to rants and seems to have no solution – so give the bloody woman and child a home. You are much nearer her than I and I challenge you to stop ranting and ad hominem attacking those of us who actually do want to deal with the situation – not some vague ranting about poverty or child poverty when you obviously have little knowledge or expertise in the structure of it. I was being polite, but now I simply challenge you who are much closer to that woman and child what the hell are you doing about it? Other than ranting that someone should do something. Perhaps it is you that should do something. Novel idea, individuals take responsibility for their fellows. Used to be churches but now it is the state and we can see how great a job they are doing of it. Bear, what the hell are you doing to help her? And that is not an abstract question.

                  • MaggiesBear

                    Let’s back up a bit as you seem to be willing to discuss this. I didn’t label the problem as ‘child poverty’. I labeled the problem as both poverty and child poverty. It isn’t the first time I’ve used the phrase and I am not in the minority working within the industry who use it.

                    The simple reality is that we have children, who through no fault of their own, live in poverty in this country. You stated in your original comment in support of S. Anders that you agreed with his position. His position is that ;’child poverty’ is a phrase developed by ‘lefties’ to inflict guilt. I doubt that is what you meant to support.

                    Nonetheless, we should feel guilty. I’ve watched people step around homeless people begging for change in front of Starbucks. I’ve listened to students demanding free education while thousands of children in this country have no idea where their next meal is coming from.

                    There is no question that poverty is the issue but we have allowed ourselves to use labels that strip the humanity from issues not – as you suggest – so that we can find solutions but so we can assuage our guilt. Child poverty has a completely different and more specific meaning than the generic term poverty. It’s like the label economy which is nothing less than a generic term that covers a broad range of components from trade to employment, taxation to resource development, manufacturing and a variety of others.

                    We label each of those components separately so that we can identify them more clearly in order to deal with them. I see no reason why it should be different for an issue like poverty.

                    You suggested that it was sloppy thinking to use labels like child poverty but I would put it to you that it is exactly the opposite. Poverty is not a one-size fits all issue. There are different types of poverty caused by different issues and one of those is child poverty. Another is the poverty on reserves. The causes and the effects are similar but not the same.

                    Because we hide behind politically correct language on the issue, we allow ourselves and our governments to make decisions like the one made last week where $250 million is given to refugees abroad while we have people living in our streets here at home.

                    It’s all to easy to make the Army of the Road invisible. Just strip the humanity out of the label and they no longer exist. It isn’t children who are at risk and we ignore – it’s just another social issue.

                    As for solutions, I have none. I wish I did but I don’t but then, I’m not paid to have solutions – governments are. They are quite capable at mobilizing necessary resources to address a disaster like what has happened in Alberta and I applaud that. Where they fail is in addressing the ongoing disaster in our streets.

                    We lack affordable housing, have too few shelters, lack the skills development opportunities that are necessary to lift people and their children out of poverty and provide a meager level of social assistance much of which is clawed back should anyone on assistance show enough initiative to go out and start to earn a living.

                    I can’t do much about that except publicize it and vote accordingly for the party I believe will address it. I can criticize a government like the Liberals in Ontario who gave elementary school teachers a 2% salary increase but only gave those on social assistance an absurd $6/month increase in their benefit.

                    Other than that, the best Maggie and I can do is what we already do – contribute financially and volunteer when and where we can.

                    My reaction to your previous comment was visceral. I think we are too careless with the welfare of children in our society and it is hot button issue with me.

                    • Gerry

                      Thanks Bear, we again are, by in large, in vigorous agreement. There is a background framework I think we need to be aware of and I will pose it in terms of extremes. At one end we have poverty seen as a failure of character, sloth or whatever other characteristic one wishes to use. At the other end we have poverty seen as a failure of society. The failure of character was the 18th and for a large part of the 19th centuries the operating assumption. With the development of the welfare state society is now held to blame with the accompanying assumption that society i.e. government needs to do something about “it”. In today’s public discourse raising any question about the individual’s responsibility is deemed to be blaming the victim as though the individual is the hapless product of an uncaring system. That is one issue and in that placement of responsibility the children involved truly are hapless victims of adult choices. Please understand I am not blaming the mother in your example – I have no data or information on which to form any assessment and it ain’t my prerogative to do so either. My point is that accountability for the situation has changed over time but the vestiges of these remain with us. Which is why I think you see the paltry increase to welfare compared to other increases – underlying the decision may well be that historical view that welfare recipients are shiftless, lazy, etc. Some may be but the extended look at the data I have done shows that people move on and off the welfare rolls in relatively short periods of time and the program is largely helping people over a rough patch. A related concern in government is to not make it too ‘comfy’ to be on welfare for fear it will become a permanent state.

                      Ancillary to that is the history of the evolution of the term “child poverty” which I have previously covered which effectively takes the adult(s) involved out of the equation. The logical conclusion to solve the problem of child poverty is to remove all children so deemed and place them in State run institutions. That is statism and probably does not sit well with either of us but we do need to come to grips with who is responsible for what in each situation. And that is a difficult discussion. In most instances where a child is in poverty there is an adult involved and we either remove the adult or we focus on assisting the adult as a means of helping the child. I just don’t see how the term “child poverty” helps focus what needs to be done.

                      The second point I want to make is that when I worked with 2nd and 3rd world policy makers on tackling poverty I would start with the word poverty in the middle then walk them through what causes poverty on the left and what results from poverty on the right. As items were added to the list I would eventually remove the word poverty and do direct links between what they identified as causes and what the outcomes of those were. Then, and only then, could we actually tackle specific issues. We had to remove the slop bucket (the term poverty) and deal with actual situations. This is not how government here addresses the issue. And further, I don’t think we solve any social problem without forming relationships with people. Government programs deal with people as widgets not unique human beings and front line discretion is both frowned on and feared which ensures that rules more than intent is applied. Even using my technique with a family deemed to be in poverty would be a start so that one can actually focus on making a difference rather than applying a program. But that would mean getting to know the people and actually engaging in caring. I have met some very caring people working in social assistance but I also know they struggle with the rules.

                      I would rather churches rather than government took on this whole challenge. It certainly would be much closer to their core teachings than fulminating about not investing in Israel or same sex marriage or whatever other trendy thing that seems to attract them like flies. Churches are largely empty most of the time, there should be no reason that people like the mother and child could not use the facilities. Most have kitchens and all have bathrooms but all will be terrified of the insurance liability issue. Heck, church run soup kitchens get shut down by regulators so you can imagine how many laws would be broken if churches actually opened their doors and add to that the imposition of legal liability and you get some idea of why churches are paralyzed into inaction. And all that by government who does little to replace what churches could do. And yes I am aware that churches are not all wonderful but I don’t think what we are doing is adequate either.

                      Appreciate your passion, not so much the visceral reactions, share many of them.

                    • MaggiesBear

                      We are pretty much in agreement but you mention something in your comment that underscores the reason why highlight child poverty. You mentioned the mother. Like you, I have no clue whether her circumstance was forced on her or earned by a series of bad life choices. I’m not opposed to helping those who’ve made those bad choices if they are sincerely prepared to make the effort to lift themselves up but it’s different for children.

                      In all cases, their poverty is imposed on them. It is never the result of the decisions or choices they made. They are trapped not only by the choices made by their parents but by an inefficient approach to dealing with poverty. When we bury that under the generic term poverty – they get lost. They have no advocate.

                      There are some in our society who are homeless by choice, drugs or other bad decisions. Some are poor because of misfortune but in every case – child poverty is imposed. It stands separate and apart for me because I don’t believe that in a country as rich as this, any child should ever go to bed hungry or have to sleep under playground equipment – no matter what mistakes his parents may or may not have made.

                      Welcome back.

                    • Gerry

                      Thanks Bear, but you cannot separate the child from adult(s). If we can ‘fix’ adults we solve all the problems with children. And, again the logical conclusion of your position is that the State takes over children first because of ‘poverty’, closely followed in a nanosecond by political correctness (how quickly do you think they would move on to evangelicals? geez their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage is an anathema) then simply on not having the right thoughts (oooooh yes we all have to bow to Gaia and global warming – afterall did not the great poobah to the south just pronounce it as THE issue) and so forth. So while I am angry that any child in any country on earth should die for preventable reasons I am not prepared to anoint any State as their protector. That is short term alleviation for long term pain.

                    • MaggiesBear

                      You’re putting words in my mouth. I abhor state control and do not support the state taking children from their parents. What I support are programs like the school breakfast program that make sure that all children get enough to eat and government stepping in to provide some kind of temporary shelter to a pregnant mother and her 18 month old son.

                      I don’t subscribe to the theory that doing the right thing automatically leads to political correctness and all the other dire things you predict.

                      There is simple human decency and if government can step up with a few billion to aid the victims of a natural disaster like the Alberta floods there is no question that it should be able to help a pregnant woman and her 18 month old son and others like them.

                      It is the suspicion of hidden agendas like what you’ve predicted that gets in our way of simply doing what is right. We always seem to have a reason why we shouldn’t rather than reasons why we should.

                      I believe that if you’re going to make a mistake it is better to err on the side of doing the moral thing rather than standing back and making excuses why we didn’t act.

                      One thing on which we can agree is that alleviating the root causes of poverty will go a long way towards improving the lives of both adults and children who are trapped in it. What we disagree on is far less important than that.

                      :-)