Joe Gunn of Citizens for Public Justice speaks at the launch of the Dignity for All campaign in Ottawa. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Anti-poverty strategy must be an election issue, says Dignity for All campaign

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  • February 4, 2015

OTTAWA - The Dignity for All campaign launched its national anti-poverty plan Feb. 3, urging politicians to make eliminating poverty a federal election issue.

Dignity for All, a project of Canada Without Poverty and Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), describe poverty as a violation of human rights and the most important issue facing Canada.

“We need to make the right call on poverty,” CPJ executive director Joe Gunn told a breakfast hosted by the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus on Parliament Hill. “We need to put poverty back on the agenda.”

Rev. Laurette Glasgow of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Ottawa diocese told the breakfast the plan needs to become “election bumper stickers” that say addressing poverty is the “right thing to do,” the “smart thing to do” and “needs to be done.”

The comprehensive plan “moves from a charitable framework to a human rights framework,” said Canada Without Poverty’s executive director Leilani Farha.

Canada’s 4.8 million poor, including one million children, are “rights bearers,” she said.

When they don’t have housing, food, stable incomes and employment, the government “is supposed to protect their human rights,” Farha said.

Canada has to “share a vision that includes everybody,” Gunn said. “We hope that you will help us commit the big sin of advocacy.”

The 48-page plan, entitled “Dignity For All: a National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada,” makes recommendations in six policy areas: labour and employment, food security, health, income security, housing and homelessness, and early childhood education and care.

The report recommends setting national wage standards above the poverty line, employment incentives for youth and other unrepresented groups in the work force.

It calls on the federal government to increase the maximum National Child Benefit to $5,600 for eligible families without claw backs or social assistance rate-reductions and to re-direct support programs such as the Universal Child Care Benefit to poor families. It also recommends setting national standards for provincial and territorial income assistance.

It proposes a “high-quality, universal, publicly funded and managed early childhood education and care program” for children under five, and a program for school children up to age 12, while urging the federal government to recognize “the social determinants of health” that are poverty-related such as homelessness, lack of food and chronic unemployment.

The campaign has the support of more than 15,000 Canadians and an array of anti-poverty, First Nations, faith-based and disabled rights groups, organizers said.

Katie-Sue Derejko of the Assembly of First Nations said something needs to be done to change the “piecemeal” approach to poverty that is not working.

“The statistics fill me with shame,” she said, noting the worst poverty and health outcomes affect First Nations communities. “The statistics are appalling.”

But underneath the causes of death behind HIV/AIDs, diabetes, cancer or suicide is chronic lack of access to care, to housing, to employment, what Derejko called “the cause of the cause.” This deprivation is a human rights abuse, she said.

“We are not okay with the status quo,” she said. Not addressing the cause of poverty is “like putting a Band-Aid on an open wound.”

Joleen Didyk, a member of Canada Without Poverty, said in the 10 years she has worked in inner city Saskatoon she has seen the gap between rich and poor grow wider. Kids are going to school hungry; parents are taking on second jobs and choosing schools that have lunch programs; some children are sleeping on couches in friends’ homes because their parents are homeless; rents are unaffordable and living conditions in available housing are terrible, she said. Some families she knows of are living in vehicles.

“If Canada wants to provide leadership in human rights around the world, it needs to do a better job domestically,” said Vangelis Nikias of the Canadian Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

Disabled people, especially disabled women, are far more likely to fall into poverty, he said.

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