Trish Garner: Donating isn’t a long-term solution for poverty and hunger

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      My twins started kindergarten last September. By the end of the year, they had taken part in two food bank drives and multiple bake sales to raise money for all sorts of good causes. I am glad that the school is fostering a sense of social responsibility and that my children are thinking about others. However, I am concerned that the only solution they are learning to address issues of poverty and hunger is to donate. The slogan of our schools has become “bring your money.

      Where are the lessons about the structural causes of these societal problems and what our political institutions can do about them?

      Almost one in five children live in poverty in B.C., according to the 2013 Child Poverty Report Card released in November by First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. That’s 153,000 children, an increase from last year that puts us back in the number one position with the worst child poverty rate in Canada. Not a great title to hold!

      The rate is worse for children under six, which is especially worrying because of the damaging impact of poverty on children’s early physical, social, and cognitive development.

      The statistics are dismal but the overwhelming response provides hope. Clearly, people are concerned about child poverty in our province and want to take action to address it. However, just like in our schools, our response is often to donate. In fact, B.C. is one of the most generous provinces in Canada in terms of giving to charity. And yet, B.C.’s child poverty rate has been the worst in Canada for nine of the last 10 years.

      Don’t get me wrong; giving to charity is necessary in this time of great need in order to address the immediate needs of people living in poverty. However, charities can only provide short-term relief that addresses the “downstream” symptoms, and we need long-term solutions that go “upstream” to fix the root causes.

      Food banks themselves are saying the same thing. In the 2013 HungerCount report, Food Banks Canada highlights that “the root of the need is low income”. Their recommendations look “upstream” and include government commitments to provide affordable housing, education and training, support for low-wage workers, and increased “social assistance so that people can build self-sufficiency instead of being trapped in poverty”.

      Food banks were, in fact, initially meant to be a temporary measure but they have now been around for over 30 years. They have become such a normal part of society that we never question their role and the extent to which they can address these big issues. We give year after year without wondering why children are still going hungry in B.C.

      Now the holiday season’s over, perhaps we should start asking that question and look to our government for answers.

      When I talk to my children about these issues, I tell them that the government is a group of people that has the power and responsibility to make the “big rules” or “policies” that could really help children in poverty. I tell them that we vote for them to represent our concerns and they are (or should be) always interested in listening and making change for the good of all.

      So let’s match our donations with an action. Here’s an idea to take to our provincial government. Most other places in Canada have a poverty reduction plan and they are already saving lives and money. B.C. needs a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines to really make a difference for families, communities, and our province.

      The government’s response to poverty continues to be a reliance on the B.C. Jobs Plan. However, most people in poverty already have a job, and almost one in three poor children live in families with at least one adult working full-time full-year.

      Poverty is a heavy issue and we need everyone to share the weight. Giving to charity is the community stepping up and now we need to ask government to share the weight with us.

      We are teaching our children to be charitable givers, and fostering social service from a very young age. Let’s also teach them to be democratic citizens and think about social justice by engaging with their government. At the same time, let’s learn that ourselves.




      Jan 9, 2014 at 2:04pm

      Be careful what you wish for. The government that does the most for children's welfare, in my considered opinion, is the People's Republic of China, which sanctions unregulated birth. You don't get to have a baby until you are married and you don't get to be married until you are a self-supporting adult. If you exceed the birth limit, you get to pay for all the costs of medical and education for that extra child.

      In Canada, child poverty is heavily linked to children being born INTO poverty and then themselves having a higher than normal amount of children, creating what has amounted to a more or less permanent underclass.

      How much of this is government's responsibility? Some, sure. Indirectly, a great deal in that low-skill jobs that pay decently have been exported from North America by the really very evil Free Trade Agreement. But if we like to think that we are in charge of our lives, and that we have free will, then we are certainly doing a crap job of ensuring that we give birth to kids who are wanted and that we can actually raise without undue hardship.

      I'm not sure what the answer is, but it's not a simple one such as "let's look to the government." We might not like that answer.

      Deborah OConnor

      Jan 10, 2014 at 1:39pm

      I'm all for teaching children and everyone else about the systemic causes of poverty, and how to work for political change. Not sure that a poverty reduction plan will help with that though. In our part of Ontario it has turned into just another bureaucratic exercise for social service providers who want to look like they're doing something. All they do is have meetings and a website, and the inclusion of orgs. like the welfare office and health unit guarantee they will never push for political action. It's about more and better ways to enchance charitable giving and nothing more.