Tag Archives: basic income guarantee

The Downward Spiral Of Poverty

This August, our blog has been all about Poverty and Health. A group that faces the close connection between health and the downward spiral that is poverty every day is Bridges Community Health Centre. We invited Rhonda Barron, Health Promoter at Bridges, to share her experience with our readers in a guest blog.

Janet

Janet turned 56 yesterday, although she’s definitely feeling much older these days. In the past year she lost her husband of 25 years in a fatal car accident and her mother to a stroke.

smoke-1001667_1280She is consoling herself with cigarettes – a habit she picked up again after ten years smoke free – occasional drinking and confining herself to the sofa most nights curled up with a book, or lately, binge watching the third season of Orange is the New Black.

Every morning she makes her way to the local pharmacy just down the street from her red brick three-storey apartment to a part-time cashier job she’s had since 2006. It’s a reasonable walk, but Janet usually drives playing the same script over in her head as she makes her way to her car: “I’ll walk to work tomorrow.”

Trained as a Dental Hygienist, Janet worked for a busy dental practice in downtown Niagara Falls for a number of years until an accident left her unable to perform her duties. Now her only option is low-skilled minimum wage employment, part-time at that.  

In the past six months she’s been using the little savings she and her husband were able to tuck away to pay her rent and put food in her fridge.

As a construction sub-contractor, her husband had no benefits and no pension. He earned decent money when there was work, but the construction industry in Niagara ebbs and flows making the availability of work anything but consistent. Now with Jake gone, Janet’s on her own.

She’s estimated her savings will carry her 12 months at best.

As if being on the brink of near financial collapse and dealing with grief were not enough, Janet’s health is on a downward spiral.

As if being on the brink of near financial collapse and dealing with grief were not enough, Janet’s health is on a downward spiral. Her vision is blurry, she grows tired easily and lately she’s been experiencing tingling in her hands and feet. After some coaxing from her sister, Janet made an appointment to see her nurse practitioner at the Community Health Centre she belongs to.

The Diagnosis

After a few tests and a couple of repeat visits, she is diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Instead of burying her head and ignoring the symptoms, she decides to consult with the diabetes education team and enroll in some of their workshops.

A few months pass and her health care providers are noticing significant improvements in her health. Her blood sugar is under control and she’s down ten pounds, an accomplishment she can directly attribute to eating healthier and regular exercise. She even quit smoking.

Six months later Janet is down another ten pounds and feeling much better about her health, but her stress levels are creeping up and the temptation to smoke is harder to ignore.

With her savings now exhausted, Janet does not know how she will make next month’s rent.

Janet is doing all the right things. She’s made significant behavioural changes, everything from healthy eating, exercise and quitting smoking. She should be proud of herself. And she is, but there’s no program, workshop or lifestyle change that will help her with what she needs most to live a healthy, prosperous life: a secure income.

With her savings now exhausted, Janet does not know how she will make next month’s rent.

Facing Poverty

Last night she broke down and had a cigarette, the seriousness and weight of her situation too much to bear.

With not enough money to buy groceries, Janet visits the food bank for the first time in her life. The volunteers she encountered were kind, but the experience no less humiliating.

Now into the throes of poverty, Janet is on an affordable housing wait list, but expects it will be at least three years before she gets a call. This may be the first time she has experienced poverty, but the consequences are no less dire.

Even though she participated in programs and made lifestyle changes that have improved her health, until she has affordable housing and enough money to eat healthy and meet her basic needs, these lifestyle changes will not put her on even ground with others who are income secure.

Now that Janet is living in poverty she is at greater risk of developing other chronic diseases. She is also at greater risk of dying from related complications.

Income Determining Health

Income is the most profound determinant of health. For every rung you move up the income ladder, the better your health. Many health care providers understand it and more politicians are starting to realise it.

The average life expectancy for a woman living in Canada is 81 years, but not everyone benefits equally.

Extreme levels of inequity play out in catastrophic ways, including life expectancy.

According to the Code Red series that ran in the Hamilton Spectator a few years ago the difference in life expectancy was 21 years between the best and worst neighbourhoods.

Not only does poverty strip years from your life, it denies you of your potential.

Poverty casts a dark ominous cloud on people’s lives.

No one chooses to live in poverty, and escaping poverty is not about making better choices.

And yet, there is no shortage of comments about what people in poverty are doing wrong.

And yet, there is no shortage of comments about what people in poverty are doing wrong. That firmly held neoliberal belief that if you just got your act together, found some discipline or made better choices you could be on the road to success.

People easily forget or perhaps have never realised their success is more than the sum of their decisions. Often it’s the family we are born into, the person we married, our skin colour, the language we speak, or simply, we were not the one to get the job.

It’s not uncommon to hear people remark on how someone living in poverty can afford to smoke or drink. But when you have little to look forward to in your life, sometimes a cigarette or a drink, as unhealthy as they are, offers a temporary escape, even if it’s just in your head.

It’s harder to give up an addiction when you are living in poverty. The daily doses of toxic stress that poverty readily delivers wreaks havoc with a person’s brain. In fact, living in poverty actually depletes a person’s will power.

Poverty restricts choices. It’s repeatedly having to say no or being unable to access things other people take for granted. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise then that once a person’s willpower reserve is depleted a cigarette becomes an irresistible temptation that brings a rush of dopamine and an accompanying sense of satisfaction and relief, albeit temporary.

The Cure

The good news is that there is a social vaccine that will prevent poverty and combat income security. It’s called a basic income guarantee.

Ontario is launching a pilot next spring. It’s a step in the right direction. But we need to work together to make sure the pilot becomes a national program that benefits all people living in poverty. And we need to make sure that it is done in a way that ensures people are better off.

Some people say we cannot afford it. The truth is, we cannot afford not to.

Others think it’s a recipe for laziness. Existing evidence says otherwise.

A basic income will prevent poverty and combat income insecurity. It will put people on solid ground that leads to improved health.

Incomes security sets a stable foundation that allows people to be creative, innovative and engage in entrepreneurship. These success will increase money flows into local economies. These things in turn will reduce social spending in other high ticket areas like health care and the justice system.

Yes a basic income will come with additional costs, but the social return on investment will transform lives and communities. In the end we will save money, and more importantly, we will save lives.

One Small Thing

I am Laura Ip, the Resource Development Coordinator at YWCA Niagara Region.

If you’ll indulge me for just a moment, I’d like to open with a bit of my own story, because I hope – when I’m finished speaking today – it will have helped to drive home the point that living in poverty is not about being a certain kind of person. It can happen to anyone. And it can happen at any time. Continue reading