Photo credit: Flickr (Just a Prairie Boy)
February 20th is the World Day of Social Justice. While it largely goes unnoticed as a United Nations internationally observed day, it is a great chance to reflect and act on social and public justice in Canada and globally. It’s a good time to ask ourselves, ‘what significant contribution might we make to challenge injustice in society today?’ When thinking about social justice, it’s important to remember that injustice doesn’t happen by accident. It exists when people are treated unfairly and their rights are ignored.
Marginalized by Injustice
If we recognize poverty as an injustice, then it follows that poverty is not a result of poor character or morals, but rather that the rights of individuals in poverty are not being respected. And so, the first step to poverty elimination is to reflect on our own attitudes. We should see those living in poverty, a total 4.9 million people in Canada, as our peers who lack the supports they need to get to a better place.
In our market-driven society, wealth is so highly valued that those who are deemed unable to contribute are pushed to the margins of society. Poverty elimination is one of the key ways to empower these marginalized Canadians and move towards a more just and equitable society.
Dignity for All
As Christians, we affirm that each individual has intrinsic value, and has a right to live in dignity. We must challenge the belief that some people deserve to live in poverty. If we stand together in the understanding that we are children of God, then we must acknowledge that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a decent standard of living.
As citizens, we must then work to implement changes to this effect. We can no longer expect charitable efforts to effectively eradicate poverty. Circumstances such as job loss, single parenthood, barriers to education, and racialization should not translate to a life of poverty.
The Dignity for All campaign co-led by Citizens for Public Justice and Canada Without Poverty has developed a model national anti-poverty plan for poverty elimination in Canada. It recognizes the need for a comprehensive, holistic approach which links efforts across the country. The model plan, developed through broad consultation, recognizes the multiple and interconnected aspects of poverty and the need for a response that reflects this complexity.
Ending the Cycle of Poverty
Poverty in Canada is persistent because there is no quick pathway lined with simple choices that will move you out of it. The reality is that people are constrained by their circumstances, with no foundation to stand on.
The indignity of poverty is grounded in the loss of autonomy, and made worse by society’s aversion to people who experience it. Many of Canada’s poor are already working; just ‘getting a job’ is not a guaranteed solution. Despite this, many provinces will require a person to reduce their assets to next-to-nothing in order to access social assistance, making it even harder to escape their circumstances. While individuals should strive to make good and responsible choices for themselves, they can’t achieve financial stability if they are kept at rock bottom. We cannot keep expecting people to climb out of a hole when we take away the ladder.
The Dignity for All campaign calls for social policy and legislation that would ensure sufficient incomes and affordable, stable housing, as well as strengthen access to food, healthcare, employment supports, and early child hood care. All of these provisions would help individuals and families avoid falling into poverty and help them to get out. We need to stand side-by-side with people who experience poverty and ask our government for real solutions.
Social justice is achieved through ongoing collective effort. Let’s take the time on World Day of Social Justice to recommit to poverty eradication and stand with each other to act for change.