From Geneva

Friday, May 05, 2006

All levels of government fail to protect citizens from poverty: activists - Kevin Werner, Brabant Newspapers

(May 5, 2006)
The United Nations has stated it is every person's right to have an adequate standard of living.
The Canadian government in 1976, endorsed that right and signed the UN's International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to make sure the goal was high on the country's political agenda.
Despite the high-minded principles, local politicians and social activists say all levels of government have failed to protect their citizens from poverty after 30 years.
"There is an increasing polarization of income in our community," said Craig Foye, a lawyer for McQuesten Legal and Community Services. "Families are spiraling deeper and deeper into poverty."
Mr. Foye, in a report he delivered this week to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, uses Hamilton as a microcosm of Canada's failure to protect citizens from the crushing burden of poverty. As of September 2005, there were 24,000 Hamiltonians living on social assistance. Hamilton has the highest poverty rate in Ontario.
The report was sponsored by the Income Security Working Group and co-authored by Chabriol Colebatch, Deirdre Pike and Mr. Foye.
Living in poverty
Neil Turner, a member of the Income Security Working Group, who attended Mr. Foye's send-off, said he had just arrived from a breakfast for 70 children living in poverty.
"I wanted to be there," he said. "Some people don't know what poverty is until they go there."
The after-tax income of families in the bottom five per cent of income dropped, while the five per cent of families in the top portion of income has increased.
"It needs to change," said Mr. Foye.
As Hamilton's poverty rate has skyrocketed, it has contributed to higher uses of food banks, crime has increased and homelessness is on the rise, while peoples' health is declining, he told about 50 citizens and local politicians, who applauded his initiative at city hall.
Mr. Foye talked about transforming how social service agencies treat lower income people. Governments must create programs that help people rather than keeping them tied to the minimal payments they receive to survive.
"We can easily create an intelligent social service system," he said. "That we don't is our shame. It has become policy."
The NDP and Liberal politicians added their voices, saying all governments over the years have failed their people.
Hamilton Centre NDP MP David Christopherson said if there was a political will to eradicate poverty, it would happen.
"We didn't get into this situation with one government," he said. "We have allowed our social agenda to be hijacked by an economic agenda."
All the politicians echoed each other's thoughts, saying all levels of government haven't done enough to help the vulnerable.
"If governments embrace (Mr. Foye's report) we will see real change," said Hamilton East NDP MPP Andrea Horwath.
Added Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin: "We need to do more to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor."
Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni said council in an unanimous vote supported Mr. Foye's initiative in February.
"Your message will add weight to the global scale of poverty," he said.
Stoney Creek NDP MP Wayne Marston also attended the event. No Conservative or Progressive Conservative politician attended the morning news conference.
Mr. Foye left for Switzerland April 28 and will return May 6.


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