Church supports national anti-poverty campaign

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At least 250,000 Canadians are homeless, and one in seven live in poverty. Dignity for All wants to change that. Photo: Geo Swan/Wikimedia Commons
At least 250,000 Canadians are homeless, and one in seven live in poverty. Dignity for All wants to change that. Photo: Geo Swan/Wikimedia Commons

Faith groups, including the Anglican Church of Canada, have thrown their support behind Dignity for All, a national campaign that urges Ottawa to legislate an anti-poverty plan that will address the plight of 4.8 million Canadians who struggle to make ends meet.

“Despite multiple calls for the development of a national poverty plan by the United Nations, the Senate, and the House of Commons Standing Committee, Canada has not stepped up to the plate,” said a 48-page report released by Dignity for All during a breakfast on Feb. 3 with Parliament’s All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus. “This means that there is no strategy in place at the national level to address the needs of one in seven people in Canada who live in poverty.”

The Rev. Laurette Glasgow, the church’s special advisor for government relations and a priest in the diocese of Ottawa, attended the presentation of the report and expressed support for the campaign, saying it is “right, smart and needs to be done.”

With a federal election looming this year, every political party platform must include a commitment to develop and implement a national anti-poverty plan, stressed the report.

Led by the not-for-profit groups Canada Without Poverty and Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), the campaign is supported by over 600 social justice groups. CPJ is an ecumenical partner of the Anglican Church of Canada. (The Poverty in Canada Working Group of the Canadian Council of Churches’ Commission on Justice and Peace is also supporting the report’s release.)

The report identifies six focus areas for addressing poverty: income security, housing and homelessness, health, food security, early childhood education and care, and jobs and employment.

Key recommendations to address lack of income security include increasing the National Child Benefit payments to low-income families from $3,654 to $5,600 and reforming Employment Insurance and other income-assistance programs.

Noting that at least 250,000 Canadians are homeless and most shelters are at maximum capacity, Dignity for All said Ottawa must develop and implement a national housing strategy and increase funding “by no less than $2 billion per year in new money” to set it in motion.

The federal government must also develop a national right to food policy that will address hunger, said the campaign, which noted that food insecurity among Inuit adults in Nunavut is “shockingly high at 69 per cent or six times higher than the Canadian national average.” Overall food bank usage increased by 25 per cent following the economic recession in 2008 to 2009, it added.

The campaign also recommends a new 10-year health accord, including a national pharmacare program, to address health-care inequalities.

Addressing the needs of working parents, the campaign calls for a universal, publicly funded early childhood education and care program.

On the matter of jobs and employment, the campaign recommends that Ottawa set national wage standards above the poverty line and address unemployment among youth and other groups under-represented in the workplace.

The anti-poverty plan must not only be consistent with international human rights obligations, but it must “focus on those most in need,” have measurable goals, targets and timelines as well as a review and accountability process, said the campaign. The plan must be developed in consultation with affected communities and integrated with provincial and territorial anti-poverty initiatives, adds the report.

Meanwhile, in her remarks, Glasgow also said that addressing poverty is a gospel mandate. “We are accountable, both as individuals and as a society to respond to those in need with compassion.”

A comprehensive anti-poverty plan “ensures greater efficiencies and cost-effectiveness,” added Glasgow. (The campaign quotes a report by the National Council of Welfare that poverty costs taxpayers more than $24 billion a year. The total annual cost of homelessness to the Canadian economy is $7.05 billion, which includes the operation of emergency shelters, social services, health care and corrections, according to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.)

Glasgow said faith groups, including the Anglican church, have been involved in providing services to the marginalized “because it is part of how we live our faith.” She noted that the diocese of Ottawa alone supports five ministries that provide food, shelter and support for low-income men, women and children.

The report-the result of a four-year consultation with not-for-profit coalitions, faith groups, unions, experts and Canadians at large-is a resource that will help Anglicans “be aware of issues that we hope will have good attention during federal election 2015, and at anytime, really,” said Henriette Thompson, the Anglican Church of Canada’s director of public witness for social and ecological justice.

In 2013, the Anglican-Lutheran Joint Assembly passed a joint declaration that commits the two churches to “advocate for renewed federal funding” and for a national collaborative strategy to address homelessness and substandard housing.

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