BY MARIE BURGE
Cooper Institute, with many other organizations on the Island, looked forward to the release of the P.E.I. government’s “Poverty Reduction Action Plan.” This was a work in progress for the past six years. The government put the development of the plan in the hands of its Poverty Reduction Advisory Council in early 2018. It was clear to us from the beginning that reduction of poverty, not its elimination, was the goal. The framework was the development of policy based on a charity model rather than a social justice, rights-based model.
Cooper Institute, since its founding 34 years ago, has promoted the ideal of the universal right of every human being to uninterrupted access to the basic necessities of life. We have listened to many voices across P.E.I.
People of every sector and every class have told us that we need to have a total change of mind and heart in the community and in government concerning the high percentage of people in P.E.I. who live in poverty and/or who live on the edge. P.E.I. needs to end poverty in the long run, not only to reduce it. Reducing poverty involves incremental changes, but no change in direction or structures.
It is important to acknowledge that the collaborative engagement process designed by the Poverty Reduction Advisory Council was impressive. The hours of dedicated work were inspiring. Many people from all walks of life told the council about the need to address the effects of inadequate income on the lives of too many people.
Out of the many consultations, the council came up with an elaborate plan of action to improve many aspects of low income Islanders over the next six years, which interestingly will correspond to the span of two elections.
They proposed ways of improving access to food, housing, mental and physical health care and education. All who were engaged in any way in the six-month consultation process would rejoice that more people would be helped, either by increased services or a raise in the amount of money they could receive to meet basic needs.
It is clear that the life of some people living in poverty would be somewhat better in the coming years. We rejoice in that. However, we have a number of concerns about the Poverty Reduction Action Plan as presented by the government.
The major concern, and disappointment, is related to one of the guiding principles which states: “Addressing the inter-related root causes of poverty to overcome poverty today and prevent poverty tomorrow.” It would have taken extraordinary courage to dig deeply enough to identify the current overriding economic model as a direct root cause. It is an economic system which has made the rich richer, and the poor poorer. This is an economic system which defends the trickle-down theory, that the riches at the top will somehow trickle down to the impoverished masses. This has never happened.
The actions outlined in the report will neither overcome poverty in P.E.I. today nor is there a path for prevention of poverty in the future. True, there are improvements which will improve the situation of a number of people living in poverty. These important measures certainly do not overcome poverty, even in the short term.
In every consultation session, we and our collaborators introduced a Basic Income Guarantee (B.I.G.) as a long-term solution. However, there is not one mention of B.I.G. as a future possibility for the elimination of poverty in the years to come.
In conclusion: Cooper Institute rejoices with those whose lives will be improved in increments. We are grateful for the work of the Poverty Reduction Advisory Council. We congratulate the government for taking some sincere steps to alleviate the suffering of some people living in poverty. On the other hand, we see the action plan as a plan to keep poverty as part of the structure of P.E.I. long into the future. We can do better.
- Marie Burge, on behalf of Cooper Institute Collective, of which she is a member and a project co-ordinator