Monday, 22 November 2010

You can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots

Poverty has always been an issue that's troubled me. I was, if I may venture to say so, probably a little more informed about it from a younger age, compared to most middle/upper class kids, since my dad worked in the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development for a lot of my younger life, and specifically with Homelessness for part of that time. On "take your child to work day" he had some meetings and stuff going on, so I spent part of the day with him, part of the day with someone else in his office, and part of the day at a local youth shelter.

One of the things that really disturbs me about poverty is how much ignorance there is around it. The people who will make fun of "dirty homeless bums" or refuse to give them any money because "they'll just spend it on drugs anyway" or say things like "well if they'd just get off their ass and get a job they wouldn't have this problem."

Some people on the street have addiction problems. This is true. Some people on the street are there because they came from a poor family and couldn't afford an education. Or they were the oldest of seven kids and dropped out of high school to help out their family. Or they have some form of disability which prevents them from working, and no one else to support them. Or they left an abusive husband/family, but had nowhere to go and nothing to support themselves with. Or or or. Don't be so quick to judge.

As for the "just get a job" mentality, I don't think people think this one through. For someone who lives on the streets or has low income not to have access to things like phones, computers, etc. that we take for granted: How are you going to make and print your resumé? Where are you going to see job advertisements? What contact information are you going to give? What would you wear to an interview? Poverty is a self-enforcing condition; once you're in it's hard to get out. To quote the article I'm getting around to linking to: "You can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots."

So poverty is disturbing because there's a lot of prejudice around it, which means the people with the resources to make a difference are unwilling to do so. It's disturbing because there's not much that people living in poverty can do to help themselves get out (there are some things, yes, but not a lot). It's also disturbing to me because there don't seem to be ways to fix it.

Homeless shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, welfare payments, etc. are not going to fix it. They make life easier and more comfortable for the people living in poverty, yes, and I think for that reason they are important and should be continued. But they're just band-aid solutions. They're not going to eliminate or reduce the number of people living below the poverty line. I don't know what would, though. How on earth do you end poverty? To make sure that everyone has the necessities of life when they just can't provide for themselves?

Then I came across this article in the Globe and Mail about ending poverty by giving poor people money. That answer is just so obvious that it never even occurred to me. It's brilliant.

Would there be problems with such a scheme? Yes. Of course there would. Some people would not use the money wisely. But I think that a lot more people would use it well. Heck, the studies they cited showed that to be true.

Will it ever happen on a large scale in Canada? Probably not any time soon. People are just too concerned with where their "precious hard-earned tax dollars" are going, and if it's not something that directly benefits them, they'll protest it.

I think it could be beautiful.