Extent of B.C.’s poverty has an effect on us all

Re: Time to enrich poverty debate (B.C. Views, March 9)

Tom Fletcher raises a number of points in his column which require a critical look.

As a balance to the Ralph Sultan book he refers to, may I suggest The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. Regardless of quibbles over definitions of poverty line (and by Mr. Fletcher’s own admission, the extreme cost of housing in areas such as Victoria certainly pushes the Low Income Cutoff closer to such a line), societies with large inequalities in wealth are much more prone to social problems of all kinds.

For example, Canada’s infant mortality figures from a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development show that we have slipped from sixth to 24th in the world, at the same time as income disparities between rich and poor reached levels not seen since the 1920s. A UNICEF report shows us at 17th out of 24 in the area of children’s material well-being, which includes family income and housing.

Societies with higher income disparity also demonstrate increased mental health problems and drug use, obesity, lower educational performance, more violence and imprisonment, and many other symptoms of malaise. In contrast, innovation, productivity and economic stability are actually greater in more equal societies. For example, Canada and the U.S. are at the bottom of patents issued per million population among developed nations.

Mr. Fletcher seems to imply that “the poor shall always be with us” is some sort of excuse for ignoring poverty issues. While there will indeed always be those with less than the more fortunate, how big the difference is and how we treat them clearly has huge consequences not just for the poor but for us as a society.

Judy Gaylord

Saanich