We can­not af­ford the cost of ig­no­ring po­verty

A so­ciety with no po­verty would be healt­hier, hap­pier and ea­sier to li­ve in - and would sa­ve us all mo­ney in the end

La Jornada (Canada) - - EDITORIAL -

As a fa­mily doc­tor who works lar­gely with peo­ple li­ving on low in­co­mes, po­verty is at the root of many of the ill­nes­ses I treat. And, a do­zen or so years in­to my ca­reer, my wor­kload shows no sign of ea­sing up. A shor­tsigh­ted pers­pec­ti­ve would say, “Good for me.”

The Cost of Po­verty in To­ron­to re­port re­lea­sed re­cently turns this thin­king on its head. The re­port cal­cu­la­tes that po­verty costs To­ron­to alo­ne $5 bi­llion a year. I am not an eco­no­mist, but the sha­re of this cost that falls on me and my fa­mily is hu­ge.

In my li­fe, the re­port’s fin­dings play out daily: Last week, I saw a pa­tient who had spent mo­re than 10 years li­ving in a ra­vi­ne. He had been to hos­pi­tal mul­ti­ple ti­mes du­ring that de­ca­de, with heart at­tacks, skin in­fec­tions and se­rious de­pres­sion. If he had been hou­sed, with enough in­co­me to sup­port him­self at even the most basic stan­dard of li­ving, allo­wing him to eat pro­perly, li­ve with less stress, en­ga­ge with com­mu­nity sup­ports and pri­mary health ca­re, the tens of thou­sands of health do­llars spent on him may well ha­ve been avoi­ded.

A co­llea­gue of mi­ne was with a group of me­di­cal stu­dents re­cently when they as­ked a pa­tient why he was in hos­pi­tal with an in­ju­red leg. He ans­we­red, “Be­cau­se I ha­ve no mo­ney.” He said he ca­me to hos­pi­tal with is­sues that could ha­ve been ad­dres­sed in the com­mu­nity be­cau­se the­re is no one to help him and he can’t af­ford to ca­re for him­self at ho­me. The stu­dents and their tea­cher spent the next two hours trying to un­ders­tand how this was pos­si­ble.

We al­so see the ef­fects of po­verty at ho­me: the dis­com­fort of li­ving next to peo­ple who are strug­gling to sur­vi­ve, with the re­sul­ting an­ger this cau­ses on both si­des. Our chil­dren co­me ho­me from school tal­king about their friends who ha­ve to ask for help to go on a field trip and who hi­de their inade­qua­te lun­ches out of sha­me.

To avoid dea­ling with this si­tua­tion is not only im­mo­ral, it al­so ma­kes no sen­se. This re­port high­lights the ne­ga­ti­ve si­de of con­ti­nued po­verty: poor health and lost pro­duc­ti­vity. The re­port al­so tells me that a so­ciety with no po­verty would be healt­hier, hap­pier, and ea­sier to li­ve in. We would al­so li­kely sa­ve mo­ney in the long run.

The­re has been an end­less stream of re­ports and com­mis­sions loo­king at how to ad­dress po­verty. We ha­ve To­ron­to and On­ta­rio po­verty re­duc­tion stra­te­gies and are wai­ting for a fe­de­ral ver­sion. We know we must ad­dress a lack of af­for­da­ble hou­sing or child ca­re, inade­qua­te so­cial as- sis­tan­ce ra­tes and the ri­se of pre­ca­rious work. We are pretty su­re cli­ma­te chan­ge is ma­king the si­tua­tion wor­se.

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. Over this pe­riod, we ha­ve seen the most dra­ma­tic ri­se in po­verty ra­tes and in­co­me inequa­lity, with a con­cen­tra­tion of wealth in the top one per cent. It’s ti­me for a ret­hink.

I’d be mo­re than happy to pay mo­re ta­xes if I knew that mo­ney would help my com­mu­nity to be healt­hier and hap­pier. I feel good and ho­pe­ful when pro­vin­cial and fe­de­ral lea­ders talk about initia­ti­ves that will ma­ke li­fe ea­sier for tho­se who are most vul­ne­ra­ble. I am mo­re than happy to put my mo­ney whe­re my mouth is.

The cost of po­verty will only con­ti­nue to go up if we do not start to see real ac­tion from go­vern­ment. So­me hard choi­ces will ha­ve to be ma­de, but this re­port shows us that if we con­ti­nue to ma­ke de­ci­sions wit­hout thought of our long-term well-being, we will pay.

I cha­llen­ge us all to put me out of bu­si­ness.

I would be very happy to know the flow of pa­tients to my door had dried up be­cau­se we de­ci­ded to put our re­sour­ces whe­re they ha­ve the most po­si­ti­ve im­pact: in­to truly en­ding po­verty, in To­ron­to and be­yond. -TROYMEDIA

Gary Bloch is a fa­mily phy­si­cian in To­ron­to, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor with the Uni­ver­sity of To­ron­to, and an ex­pert ad­vi­ser with Evi­den­ceNet­work.ca.

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