Santa: Please stop here
I haven’t seen that plaintive little sign yet. The first week in December is, I suppose, too early.
I’ve often wondered whether it’s just a fad, something all the kids do, or whether the children in the house displaying that sign were actually begging Santa to visit. Ignored by most, they felt even Santa would find them insignificant and pass them by.
It was outside the poorer homes in Carbonear where I saw that sign. Here, the houses were shabbier, the decorations less plentiful, as if its young occupants were willing Santa to come and make things better. I could never bear to look very long at that sign. For to me, it represented the worst blasphemy of all — the innocence of a child, shaken or worse still, destroyed by poverty on what is their special holiday, a time when they are told and believe magic can truly happen. For it is Christmas.
Christmas is the season of contrasts. It is the season of happy people laden with presents lined up at store checkouts, addled, harried from a day’s shopping, the voices and faces straight out of television land.
Then, in this cruel dichotomy, there are those addled and harried for a far different reason. These are the people calling food banks in mid-November, asking if Christmas hampers will be distributed this year, the voices sometimes nervous, tentative, the sob-filled sigh of relief when you say “Yes.” That sigh alone, that mixture of anguish and fear now tinged with a little hope is enough to break your heart. You picture the careworn face behind that voice and your heart breaks just a little further.
A worker in the Department of Advanced Education and Skills told me a month ago there was a “high volume” of income support applications. It is a startling admission and one that puts our government to shame. A “high volume” in the demand for public charity in the land of full and plenty — in a country where no child should lie awake wondering if Santa will see and respond to their woebegone little sign, where no adult should feel they must plead for Christmas dinner.
And yet there was no mention made of poverty reduction in the Five-Point election plan of now Liberal premier-designate Dwight Ball. He encourages us to eat more fruit and vegetables, but a leader so familiar with poverty statistics must know that fresh produce is never the staple of food banks.
On a November campaign stop in Carbonear, Ball said in a private interview that roughly 34,000 people in the province rely on income support, 8,000 of whom are children. Ironically, a report released the same day by Food Banks Canada put the number of children eating from food banks in this province at almost 9,365 in March alone. It also stated we have the second-highest level of food-bank usage in the country.
Yet, there is no indication from Ball as to how he plans to elimi- nate those statistics. His election manifesto says he will “promote healthy eating habits through a combination of awareness campaigns and community outreach,” but there is no clarity as to how he will put nutritious food into hungry bellies.
He did say he would make housing more affordable for the poor and introduce a minimum wage that “guarantees an annual increase based on the consumer price index.” But having a roof over your head won’t lessen the hunger pangs and an indexed minimum wage benefits only those in the workforce. Perhaps the most indigent will gain through the elimination of pay to parliamentary secretaries, in excess of $500,000 “since the last election” his platform read, but there is no indication that any money saved there will benefit the poorest of the poor either.
Christmas, the season of hope and joy, is the most cruel for many. It is the hidden hungry I think of mainly, those who won’t go near a food bank, the sort who wish you Merry Christmas on Dec. 25 and then return home to their semifrigid lodgings and a holiday dinner of whatever can be bought with the remnants of an income support cheque, after the bills are paid.
In that interview, Ball was asked if he had given any thought to the introduction of a basic income. He hadn’t, nor apparently had he even considered it. “We have not had any consultations in the past with the stakeholders that would be included into a basic income.”
And this system which will give every individual enough money to live with the dignity of nutritious food, sufficient heat, good housing and clothes geared to the weather is, in my opinion, a right.
It will eliminate Dickensian scenes of semi-frigid homes and pitiful meals on Christmas Day and every other day. It will banish impoverishment and the despair that accompanies it.
It is such a simple right, this right to human dignity. It is what Christmas is all about. It’s only we who make it complicated through greed, bias and self-interest. So, let’s put our baser instincts aside, not just for a few days or a few weeks, but for good. And we can begin by talking, not about a utopian illusion, but about a workable concept that can and should be implemented. All we need is the will.
(Ball’s) election manifesto says he will “promote healthy eating habits through a combination of awareness campaigns and community outreach,” but there is no clarity as to how he will put nutritious food into hungry bellies.