Installment six; Rook, charity models, Raphael, and food banks

Now, for the rest of the very long first day of the conference.

John Rook introduced the concept of Guardrails and Life boats. Or, why he thinks Basic Income has a role in solving poverty.

Social programs are either guardrails or life boats. The former prevent you from falling into the water in the first place. The latter are supposed to pick you up after you fall in. There is little empirical evidence that Lifeboats actually work.

Rook does not like anti-poverty activists. Many activists for poverty reduction still assume that the poor are to blame for their poverty. Besides, poverty elimination is a negative goal. Its opposite is well being; the ability to meet material needs and be respected in society.

Rook believes the cost of poverty in Canada is about $24 Billion. He thinks the cost of eliminating it will be $12.6 Billion. He has no breakdown or derivation for these figures.

I say that trying to cost any Basic Income is a fool's game. Implementing it will create a very complicated dynamic which will take time to stabilize. How will it effect rents, wages, tax revenues, etc? You have to get the program into place and fine tune it later.

As for implementation, Rook wants to leave some lifeboats in the water for now, but start building the guard rails. He does not think full employment will help; having a job is not what matters, but what kind of job.

He concluded with a ringing statement that a Basic Income will not be just a social program, but the beginning of a great social revolution. Of course it will; otherwise, what is the point to it? This speaks against Armine too; who does see it as a new social program and discounts the possibility of anything but incremental social change.

Senator Eggleton stood up at the end of Rook and announced that he had just formed an all party poverty caucasus. This generated cheers. But I thought they did that several years ago. Is this a reannouncement?

Charity models

After this I went upstairs and listened to some ladies from Calgary talk about the deficiencies of the charitable model of basic needs provision in Calgary. It is gratifying to me that there is starting to be some enlightened political activity in Alberta, some challenge to the party doctrine. There was none when I lived there.

It seems the United Way has a new policy from when I was there, which the hard head conservative apparatchiks must really love. They want the agencies they fund there to focus on poverty prevention. They do not want the government to shift provision of basic needs onto them. That is not their job.

This had been a dilemma for social agencies as the provincial government refused to fund basic needs. So many agencies took a needs based approach, taking over from government. But government just kept downloading more onto them.

So they started taking the other option, a rights based approach; helping people to secure their rights. A problem with this is that many funders want all their dollars to go to the clients. They do not get it that the clients do not need hand outs, they need an advocate. Advocates need to be paid.

There is a huge need for advocacy. Canada is one of the few countries where children are poorer than adults. This is deliberate policy.

As well, almost every health problem in Canada is directly related to living in poverty. This started in the 1980s. Prior to that, diabetes and cancer in rich and poor neighborhoods was about the same. Weight and activity are not significant factors. For some reason, the diabetes and cancer associations do not talk about this.

This is all about losing control of our country.

Canada's support of public needs is well behind most other wealthy developed nations, even ones considered "conservative".

They even talked about the need for proportional representation as a means of gaining control back. "If we had that, we could turn public policy around on a dime." As someone who is highly involved in voting reform as well, I liked to hear that.

Dennis Raphael

Dennis is a prof at York University in Toronto. He says that one of the most sensitive measures of well being is child mortality. Canada used to be tenth in the world in child mortality. Now we are 27th.

Rather than try to convince those who are causing this, maybe we have to force them. When governments perceive that they will start losing elections, they will act about poverty, says Dennis. I say that is a bit naive.

But Dennis has the right idea about the news media; forget about them, they are hopeless.

So, what is to be done? Some people questioned Dennis.

We can vote parties out, but who do we vote in? Someone from Manitoba pointed out that the NDP has been in power there for 12 years and has made little progress. Is the NDP really a neo-liberal party?

Others said that 70% of Canadians want more social programs, but there is no leadership about it. Where will the leadership come from?

Food Banks are an Obstacle

Next were the presentations from the food insecurity crowd. They informed us that even those who use food banks remain food insecure. Most of the "food insecure" do not even get to a food bank.

There was some discussion of efforts to profit from hunger. Some people think that just donating food will solve hunger and will even pay profit making enterprises to deliver it.

Charity food giving crowds out any solutions which would actually deal with hunger. For example, even subsidized housing does not leave enough for food. Food and housing insecurity are intertwined.

Food bank use does not overcome food insecurity. As well, food banks do not align with people's needs.

They debunk the "food desert" idea, which seems to come from some university social work faculties. There is no relation between food insecurity and distance from grocery stores. Food insecurity is rooted in income inadequacy and working does not solve income insecurity.

"Consumption insurance", meaning consumer credit, is not available for low income people. So there is no replacing things that break, wear out, or get lost or stolen.

Other comments made; there is a need for an income floor, not ad hoc relief. There is a need to look into the "sunshine list" of funded relief agencies and close many of them down. They have no incentive to solve problems.

The media refuses to cover these issues. If they do, they want someone they can "profile". If agencies will not provide one, they go somewhere else. They refuse to report studies.

Many food bank workers see it as a holy cause and will fight hard to prevent shut down. They have no analysis. But shutting down the food banks might be the only way to get governments to deal with the incomes problem.