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Can We Afford Not to Reduce Poverty?

03/25/2013 05:43 EDT | Updated 05/25/2013 05:12 EDT
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CAMDEN, NJ - OCTOBER 11: Volunteers prepare meals at the Cathedral Kitchen soup kitchen which serves 300 to 600 meals a day, six days a week, to the needy and hungry on October 11, 2012 in Camden, New Jersey. Cathedral Kitchen was founded in 1976 and offers a variety of programs and life services to Camden's poor and disadvantaged. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Camden, New Jersey is now the most impoverished city in the United States with nearly 32,000 of Camden's residents living below the poverty line. Camden, which sits just over the bridge from more affluent Philadelphia, also has a chronic crime problem with 48 recorded homicides this year alone. A lack of jobs has been a feature of life in Camden since the city lost most of its manufacturing base in the late 60's and 1970's. While the state unemployment rate is about 9.9 percent, Camden's is estimated at 19 percent. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The most pressing issue to both Canadians and the Canadian Government today is the economy and how to fix it. The current government feels the best way to fix the economy is to cut unnecessary spending, open Canadian boarders to foreign business, and to give tax breaks to the largest and wealthiest companies in the hope that job growth will be the result.

All of these solutions have merit in theory; however the Canadian economy has not recovered, unemployment is at 7.1 per cent, and our economy is not growing. The reason for these lackluster results is because the solutions being put into place are shallow, Band-Aid solutions, meaning they do not address the real problem for Canada's economic woes.

Poverty and its costs on society as a whole is an issue that is seldom talked about by the people or the government. Poverty, however, is an enormous expense to Canadians. Poverty and inequality generates costs, from greater demands on the health care and criminal justice systems, to diminished workplace and economic productivity, and harmful and unwholesome divisions in society based on economic status and "class." In dollar terms, according to Canada without Poverty, this loss to Canada has been estimated to range from $72 to $86 billion annually, meaning poverty in Canada costs just over $2000 per Canadian annually.

If poverty and inequality is costing Canadians upwards of $72 billion annually then why is poverty and inequality not a main issue both to Canadians and the government? The reason is that reducing poverty and shrinking inequality will involve two taboos and a political risk to the current government.

The first taboo is the current government's ideology is of encouraging smaller government and the party or its supporters do not support further government involvement. The second taboo is there is a certain level of ignorance within the government, the idea that people are in poverty because they choose to be, is still believed on a subtle level. The last and most unfortunate reason inequality and poverty is not being addressed by this government is because poverty and inequality is not an issue that their voter base is passionate about and in a democracy, re-election is always in mind.

The way to go about tackling such a complex issues as inequality and poverty begins with investing in education -- the more educated Canadians are the better life opportunities they will have. The second step is strengthening communities by fostering positive local initiatives -- a collective society is better than an individualist society. The third step is to start viewing social assistance as a goal of removing barriers and increasing opportunity, not as a social handout.

Currently 3.5 million Canadians live in poverty, every month, 770,000 people in Canada use food banks and this is hurting the Canadian economy. Economics and equality go hand in hand and inequality in Canada is costing Canadians an alarming amount of money. Inequality is not just an ethical issue; it's first and foremost an economical issue.

As a recent BC report states, "The real question is not 'Can we afford to reduce poverty?' but 'Can we afford not to?'"

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