Robin Hood was right
By Jean Swanson
Is there one thing that would improve the health of people who are poor and everyone else and reduce social problems at the same time? There is a growing amount of research that says “yes.” The one thing is reducing inequality—making the poor richer and the rich poorer.
Research projects in numerous countries, and for the last several decades, have shown that countries that are more equal have higher life expectancies, lower infant mortality rates, less addictions, less racism, better achievement in school, and fewer teen pregnancies for starters. The research shows that equality benefits the poor the most but also everyone else. For example, in more equal societies people who are poor live longer but people who aren’t poor also live longer than they do in more unequal societies.
The City of Vancouver has taken some of this info to heart, sort of. They say they are launching a Healthy City Strategy. They even had a conference on it in June. Of course the conference cost $25 so people who are poor couldn’t go.
For the conference the City made a little diagram with 20 “building blocks” for a healthy city. On paper some of them look OK. “A home for everyone” sounds good. But then, they define this to mean “a range of housing options.” Wouldn’t it be so much better if it were defined as “ending homelessness” and “providing adequate self contained, affordable housing for all?”
One of the 20 building blocks is “adequate income.” This is the most basic of the building blocks, but the conference didn’t deal with it at all. “Adequate income” depends on adequate welfare rates, pensions, and wages. It depends jobs being available for everyone who needs one and on decent, affordable housing. But the conference didn’t deal with these. Instead it had workshops on the neighbourhood food movement, on supportive housing, and on a training program for Aboriginal People. These things are all nice, and necessary, but they don’t really reduce inequality, just provide services to a few of the people who need them because inequality has been allowed to get so out of hand.
Another of the building blocks is “promoting inclusion, belonging, and connectedness.” One of the city’s examples of this was Citizen U, which is a good program for high school students to learn about racism and discrimination. Meanwhile, however, the city refuses to stop the gentrification which is making so many low income people in the Downtown Eastside feel unwelcome and excluded in their own neighbourhood.
It is hard to advocate for the systemic changes that would reduce inequality. We won’t see immediate results, although we recently won a $200 earnings exemption for people on welfare. But, in the meantime, it is not enough to push for more and more services as an antidote to poverty. We need to keep up the push for higher incomes and good housing that low income people can afford. And governments should pay for it by taxing the rich more. For more information in the impact of inequality see http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/