Children continue to be malnourished and families are still being forced out of their homes because of the rising cost of living and stagnant wages. Despite increased government spending and an abundance of social programs, the number of people living in poverty in Canada has remained relatively stable. In fact, since 1992, individuals in the low income bracket have only seen a 4.5 per cent improvement from 13.3 per cent in 1992 to 8.8 per cent in 2011(Statistics Canada). In this same period, Canada’s population grew just over 20 percent from 28.52 million to 34.34 million people. This means in 1992 there were roughly 3.8 million individuals living in poverty and in 2011 there were just over 3 million. This stat alone shows that Canada has continued to account for ~3 million homeless people for two straight decades.
The issue lies deeper than funding. The fact is, we’ve used the same methods for two decades yielding similar results. We, as a society, need to get to the core of the issue. I think there are several layers to the issue: addictions, lack of money management, and lack of proper role models for younger generations.
Addictions run rampant because of the increased quantity, quality, and availability of illicit drugs. Unfortunately, despite DARE programs and several similar programs aimed at reducing the desire in young children, generations continue to mature in the same fashion as their previous cohorts. Society as a whole shuns the illegal drugs, yet in the same breath will consume percocets and pain killers because of a physical ailment. A substantial amount of addicts do have one thing in common: mental illness. Addicts self-prescribe their drugs to help ease their mental woes. Mental health and addiction are co-morbid and can build off of one other (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). Despite a grave effort the stigma around mental health still exists; people don’t seek help because they don’t want to be a part of the stigma. They’re either in denial or they don’t recognize their own problem behaviours.
Studies show that a low socioeconomic status is correlated with poorer academic performance, malnourishment and increased risks in physical and mental health (Canadian Council on Learning). Furthermore, these individuals tend to have increased unsafe sexual activity which correlates to increased Sexually Transmitted Infections and unplanned pregnancy. These citizens who have been constantly let down by our society often do not have the ability or the means to raise the next generation in a way which will end this cycle.
Without proper role models, children miss out on several important life lessons. These lessons are simple yet effective; things like showing empathy, being respectful to oneself and others, and money management. With effective money management techniques combined with social service programs such as the Food Bank or subsidized housing an individual may be able to make ends meet. Unfortunately these programs aren’t designed for individuals who are qualified to handle the situation well, they’re designed for the least well-off, and we need more. Our government needs to offer more than just subsidies; more education and the use of our resources more efficiently. It begins in the classroom and extends passed high school.
Canadian citizens can also work with our food industries to combat the $31 billion (2014) wasted in food every year in Canada (Gooch & Felfel). Society continues to throw away perfectly edible food which could feed our hungry citizens and ensure every child and family has enough. Both grocery stores and their customers reject food that isn’t aesthetically pleasing which results in an abundance of food wasted. This food could go to charity, similar to the parameters in place in France where supermarkets are required to donate unsold food products.
In Canada there is a common saying that “you get what you work for,” but the statement is a gross generalization which ignores the actual matters at hand. Yes, you can work hard and achieve greatness in Canada; but to think you could have ever done it without supports is ignorant. We need to support fellow citizens in building a better future. We need to develop compassion and understanding of the predicaments in which these people living in poverty find themselves in. It’s easy to point out mistakes; it’s not so easy to find a solution. We need to work together to solve this issue, it can only be solved with a united effort to increase education and support. Instead of the person working his way out of poverty being the exception, we should have the person living in poverty being the exception.