Part 2: Poverty is not a personal choice, but a reflection of society

by Laurie Michael, RD, MPH; member of the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income

There are many misconceptions about a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). BIG is more than just providing income to help lift people out of poverty. It’s also about replacing portions of the current disjointed, spotty, and ineffective social safety net system. It’s about providing equity and a chance at a life with reduced shame, stigma or guilt related to income and social status. A conversation with someone who works within or alongside current social systems or those who access services and benefits will talk about inequities, discrimination, racism, stigmatization, gaps in programs, and lack of service availability. The worsening poverty rates on PEI should ring the alarm that the current and historic strategies are ineffective.

Hon. Monique Begin put it succinctly, “…the truth is that Canada – the ninth richest country in the world – is so wealthy that it manages to mask the reality of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination, the erosion of employment quality, its adverse mental health outcomes, and youth suicides. While one of the world’s biggest spenders in health care, we have one of the worst records in providing an effective social safety net.”

Along with implementing a basic income, other aspects of the social determinants of health need to be addressed in order for BIG to work to its full potential of reducing poverty. Housing, reducing precarious employment, increasing job security, childcare, food security, gender, race, disability, access to health services, and access to education are among the list of social determinants of health requiring this overlapping attention to reduce barriers and promote equity in order to achieve overall health.

I am particularly interested in the provision of high quality, low or no cost universal access to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) as a critical tandem approach to BIG implementation, and one that seems most realistic on PEI at this time.

The World Health Organization International Commission on the Social Determinants of Health recommended in 2008 that, “governments build universal coverage of a comprehensive package of quality early child development programs and services for children, mothers, and other caregivers, regardless of ability to pay”. Canada embarrassingly lags behind other developed nations with regards to funding and providing early childhood education and care programs.

Evidence shows that for every dollar spent on early childhood education and care, there is a four to eight dollar return on investment, which is much greater than funds spent at the kindergarten or school levels. Publicly funded early childhood education and care programming is a financial investment that would allow parent(s)/guardian(s) to return to work; contributing to the economy and tax base replenishment. Not surprisingly, the health benefits of implementing an early childhood education and care program are well documented for children, families and their communities.

As you may have read, PEI recently signed on with the federal government to provide early childhood education and care programs for $10/day and a commitment to increase the number of childcare spots to improve accessibility and availability. With Island political leaders acknowledging the persisting issues of poverty, this is a critical step towards poverty reduction. That being said, the largest benefits to our communities will come when these programs are implemented along with a fully costed and implemented BIG program for all adults over the age of 18 years.

Attempting to eliminate an entrenched and complex issue like poverty will take a multidimensional approach– in this case my opinion is to start with a fully costed Basic Income Guarantee for all adults and a combination of other programs and services such as high quality, low or no cost, universal early childhood and education programming.

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