Poverty is consistently linked to poor health, lower literacy, poor school performance for children, more crime, and greater stress for family members. It is society as a whole that bears the costs of poverty, through higher public health care costs, increased policing and crime costs, lost productivity, and foregone economic activity.
— The Cost of Poverty in BC,
Summary, CCPA (July 2011)
According to this report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in association with the Public Health Association of BC, the estimated costs of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan in British Columbia per year is $3 to $4 billion. The estimated yearly cost of doing nothing is $8.1 to $9.2 billion. That’s over $5 billion more the government is spending on the consequences of poverty. These are things such as: health care for those people not eating healthy, dealing with preventable illnesses, and mental health issues because of bad living conditions, lack of money to provide proper nutrition or the lack of education to know how to eat properly, and high levels of stress; and paying for crime caused by poverty, such as crimes of desperation – research by the CCPA and Raise the Rates Coalition found that extreme poverty leads to people making harmful “choices” such as staying with abusive partners, resorting to survival sex (ie. trading sex for shelter), panhandling and stealing.
The idea of the report is instead of dealing with the consequences of poverty, invest in getting people out of poverty so these costs are lower and more people are working (and therefore putting money back into the economy and paying taxes). This particular report is about one province (British Columbia has the highest poverty rate in Canada), but applies to all of Canada – a country that has the money to provide services to help get people above the poverty line. These includes safe, affordable housing, child care, improving working conditions and pay for low-wage jobs, and making education and training more accessible to low-income earners. Investing in these programs will save money in the long-term.
I’m starting to understand the downward spiral that poverty can cause. Without training or education, it’s hard to get a job that pays enough to survive off of. With whatever money you do earn, you find the cheapest apartment you can find, which can be in a dangerous neighbourhood. You sometimes have to choose between rent or food, so your health suffers because of your lack of nutrition. Then the mental issues happen. You are stressed and depressed, which makes it hard to be motivated to do anything. You don’t have the skills required for a better paying job, or you can’t find one that fits with the skills you have. You can’t afford to train to acquire more or different skills. You are in a negative hole that you can’t get out of. You have no one to help you out, and you’re so depressed you don’t have the energy to look for help. Your health suffers even more, mentally and physically. This spiral could keep going, or you could just stay where you are, always trying to break even. It’s hard to find the catalyst to go up instead of down.
I am by no means poor, even on my $21.40 a day, but I can understand the depression and lack of motivation caused by lack of money. And Canadian poverty might not be the US$1.25 per day of global extreme poverty I talked about yesterday, but it still causes a lot of negative consequences, an unhealthy life, and an unsafe environment. I can imagine a little help (like affordable housing, education and training, or a boost in wage) could help be that catalyst to stop the downward spiral.