JOURNEY TO JUSTICE
By Joe Gunn
Poverty impoverishes us all
Sitting in our parish basement, she told her story with a quiet dignity — and
a carefully concealed anger.
And then, one day, Anna exclaimed with a smile, she was no longer poor! Poof! She turned 65, began to receive senior’s benefits, and while not living extravagantly, Anna can now meet her friends for that occasional (but now very symbolic) cup of coffee.
Poverty need not always be with you . . .
The ending of Anna’s story is worth pondering. A generation ago, Canadians decided that poverty among seniors was bad for society and that something could be done. We designed state policies to rectify the situation: in the 1970s about 30 per cent of Canadian seniors lived under the poverty line. Today, with enhanced Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for lower income seniors in place, less than five per cent suffer in this way.
So we’ve learned that poverty among certain sectors can be almost totally eradicated, if we care to do so. Why could we not obtain the same successful results if we decided that children in Canada should not live in poverty, or that youth unemployment should not be twice as high as the population in general, or that newcomers to Canada should not have higher poverty rates — even when their educational status is higher than the average?
There are a growing number of seniors in Canada, and politicians know that seniors get out and vote (whereas young people often don’t, and children cannot). To create lasting social change, our “love for our neighbour” in the policy arena should be matched by our organizing smarts in the political arena.
Dignity for All
Dignity for All: the campaign for a poverty-free Canada (www.dignityforall.ca) began three years ago to mobilize public and political party support for workable solutions to address persistent poverty. Its work is co-led by Citizens for Public Justice (the faith-based NGO where I work) and Canada Without Poverty, a poor peoples’ organization. Parliamentary committees and United Nations’ representatives have supported the main goal of the campaign (i.e., that Canada develop and implement a poverty reduction strategy). Dignity for All has earned the support of almost 600 organizations and most of Canada’s faith communities, including the Catholic bishops. Seven provinces have, and others are developing, poverty reduction plans, but it’s clear that we need federal leadership.
People of faith can help make a difference. Oct. 17 marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. In both 1996 and 1998, the bishops of Canada marked the occasion with the release of a pastoral letter on poverty. This year, you can take action against poverty by checking out the resources at www.cpj.ca and:
— Read CPJ’s Poverty Trends Scorecard — Canada 2012
— Ask your member of Parliament how they intend to address poverty and to attend the Dignity for All event on Parliament Hill that evening, co-sponsored by Parliament’s Anti-Poverty Caucus
— Start the conversation in your own faith community, using the reflections and activities in CPJ’s Living Justice: A Gospel Response to Poverty. Order at www.cpj.ca/livingjustice
Listening to the experiences of people like Anna, educating ourselves about poverty’s root causes, and encouraging members of our church to engage with these issues is the best way to mark Oct. 17. We can send a clear message that Christians “walk the talk” when it comes to poverty in Canada.
Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical organization that promotes justice, peace and the integrity of creation.