Family physician and assistant professor, Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto; Expert advisor, EvidenceNetwork.ca and co-Chair, Ontario College of Family Physicians’ Committee on Poverty and Health
But the biggest barrier to ending poverty is the political orthodoxy we have lived by for the past 40 or more years, grounded in austerity: That good government is small government, that social programs must shrink and that taxes are evil. It is over this period that we have seen the most dramatic rise in poverty rates and income inequality, with a concentration of wealth in the top 1 per cent. It's time for a rethink.
It is time we make sure all low-income Canadians are accessing the benefits Parliament has already agreed they deserve. It is incumbent on the government to make sure everyone is aware of the benefits they are due. The CRA needs to provide strong support to ensure barrier-free tax filing for all those in need.
The push for doctors to treat social issues like poverty is starting to change the way we practice medicine and how we work with community agencies and those with expertise in income benefits, food security and poverty law. Many health organizations now are right in the middle of advocacy for better social conditions. Major medical organizations, including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian College of Family Physicians have been vocal in their support for this approach. This demonstrates a real acceptance by the medical mainstream that reducing patients' poverty is a core part of a doctor's job.
The link between health and income is solid and consistent -- almost every major health condition has worse outcomes among people who live at lower income. I will continue to advise my patients to exercise more and eat healthier food, but this tax season I will also spend time prescribing tax returns.
The report of the Ontario Social Assistance Review Commission, released October 24, offered some important steps toward health-focused change. Its release was set to spark a badly needed discussion on reform of a broken and anemic system. The surprise resignation of Premier Dalton McGuinty changed that -- this debate has been conspicuously absent.
Tom, 46 years old and a skilled carpenter, came into my office the other day. He has not worked for the last eight years since he hurt his back in a car accident. He struggles to survive on $600 per month. For him, social assistance has not been so much a safety net as it's been a fish net -- a trap of indignity from which he has been unable to wriggle free.