One of the reasons I decided to pursue a career in politics is to work with others to address the “wicked problems.” These “wicked problems” are the big, complex issues that cannot be left to the private sector, the community sector, or individuals. These problems require significant collective action and can only be addressed by government. Climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous nations, or mobilizing a coordinated response to a pandemic are all examples of “wicked problems”.
Poverty is also a ‘wicked problem’. With the notable exception being the introduction of the Child Tax Benefit, our poverty statistics have not improved substantially for decades. Poverty directly harms the health of those with low incomes while income inequality affects the health of all Canadians through the weakening of social infrastructure and the breakdown of social cohesion. This is magnified by the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
Why does this matter now? Because those who live and work in poverty are least likely to be able to self isolate and/or adapt; they are most likely to be the vector of infection; and are most likely to have serious complications and death from infection with the associated burden on our healthcare system.
Nobody chooses to be poor. The root cause of poverty for most people is simply the lack of money. Systemic barriers mean our society does not make it a priority to get money to those who need it most – whether that is because of employment status, location, being in a minority group, or because of social or economic background.
We have recently been creative, flexible, and responsive in ways we couldn’t have imagined three months ago. It is our moral and ethical responsibility to take a long, hard look at our priorities, and raise our voices for a basic income that lifts our friends and neighbours out of poverty. We can come through and out of this crisis with a direct solution that allows families the opportunity to live with dignity as the economy and the jobs it produces evolve. We can reduce the depth and breadth of poverty while simultaneously addressing the design flaws of existing programs that allow too many to fall through the cracks. We can reduce the current and future risk to the population from a crisis – whether it is health, climate, or economic.
In a time of change and adaptation, we have the opportunity to be bold and effect long term sustainable solutions while addressing the immediate challenge of COVID-19.
Hannah Bell, MLA for District 11 Charlottetown-Belvedere, is the Official Opposition Critic for Social Development and Housing; and of Economic Growth