The phrase “first-world problems” is one we hear a lot when people complain about things that can be considered trivial compared to the abject poverty in third-world countries.
During Poverty Awareness Week this month, the people behind Prosperity Round Table shone a light on what it means to be poor in one of the richest countries in the world.
Here in Canada, in Ontario, in Chatham-Kent, we have people who have to choose between paying rent and buying food, or paying their hydro bill or buying clothes for their kids. And these are people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
There are people who abuse the system, yes.
And there are the people who genuinely need a hand up because they can’t afford to pay the bills while earning a minimum wage at a job with no insurance for the dentist or eyeglasses. It is far more advantageous to apply for Ontario Works where they can get dental care and prescription drugs paid for.
Our system is broken. People go on Ontario Works because minimum wage doesn’t support their families, but small business owners can’t afford to keep supporting the ever-increasing minimum wage so they lay people off or close down completely. Then people are unemployed and can’t find work and have to apply for Ontario Works…
Poverty is a constant cycle with massive gaps in support.
Food banks were supposed to be stop-gap measure to help through a crisis, but here we are years later with food banks, churches and community organizations stepping up to supply meals, warms coats, backpacks, school supplies, Christmas hampers, and all the things people used to be able to supply for themselves with an honest wage for an honest day’s work.
The divide between the well-off one per cent and the poor just keeps getting wider. Unless the government wakes up and addresses the issue as a whole – not just piecemeal – the problem will just keep getting worse.
Poverty is everyone’s problem. In Chatham-Kent, we are extremely fortunate to have a community that rallies behind groups and organizations that are there to help people fill the gap.
So, no, we don’t know what it’s like to live in a place like Haiti, where people are lucky to survive the day, but we do live in a first-world country where a huge part of our population goes to bed hungry or cold or sick.
That should not be acceptable for anyone.