Saturday, May 24, 2008


Every once in awhile, the new Right through its various associations and accomplices chooses to attack government for the costs it generates. Their only solution it appears is to lower taxes, ease the burden on the upper classes to "encourage" investment. However, these same organizations are not present when it comes to how the government is going to cover the added costs of poverty that seems to almost always follow huge tax decreases for the well-heeled. The well-heeled just turn to a 'law and order' agenda and wonder why people are "going crazy" all of a sudden and how society is no longer safe. People even in small towns are interviewed and they tell the media how they used to keep their doors unlocked and can longer do so.

In my own community, while the rate of homicide and violent crimes seem to be decreasing, the rate for property-related and fraud-related crimes seems to be on the rise. We are constantly hearing about how debit machines are getting "rigged" to copy valuable information from people's magnetic strip on their cards and somehow high tech keypads pick up the P.I.N. numbers that are associated with the cards. The new fraudsters then go home to make copies of the unaware victims' debt cards and clean out their bank accounts. Home repair "contractors" go door to door to sign up unsuspecting customers who will give the "repair person" a down-payment who will then disappear with their money, never to return again to actually carry out the repairs. Telephone "fraudsters" will call and claim to represent a legitimate company or charity and ask for your credit card information to "upgrade" your existing cable, telephone or utility service that you currently subscribe to. Others with less cunning and less resources hang out on street corners to ask for spare change to take a bus or to buy a coffee. These incidents have risen geometrically over the past 20 years; however, our taxpayer federations continue to cry out how much we pay in taxes and how many people are "abusing" social services. They fail to see the connections I see with the rising rate of non-violent crimes involving property and fraud.

I talk to many of the business owners I know well in the downtown of my community. They feel bad about it, but they say if it were not for the drug dealers in the area, they'd probably be out of business. Legitimate consumers are decreasing in population, while those who are obtaining their profits through crime are increasing, it seems. We all complain that "somebody" needs to do something to "crack down" on fraud and so-called illegitimate claims for legitimate avenues, such as insurance cases, welfare benefits, worker's compensation, etc. At the same time, I am seeing a sharp increase in the number of legitimate claimants appearing at my office who have been unfairly robbed of their claims and are now losing their homes, businesses and families because of this. Where does this end? I know members of the general public have no clue what a legitimate claimant has to go through in order to claim what is legitimately theirs by law. Webpages, discussion groups and public forums are filled to the brim with people that think that "90% or more" of those claiming disability for example are perfectly able to work, but just don't want to. Others advocate that people with disabilities should be paid less because the writers are under the impression that disabled persons are less capable of contributing than a "regular person". Others complain of increased taxes going to "immigrants, welfare fraud and scammers", when in fact none of these people EVER personally experienced what they claim the "others" they speak of either experienced or claimed to be experiencing. The taxpayer's federations want more money to spend on foreign investments, foreign vacations and foreign products, because these particular individuals ALREADY have more than enough to spend on domestic products and services, so they just want to get greedy and get more.

A report called "Growing Gap" has been published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which shows that the top 10% of the income bracket (or those most likely to complain about so-called higher taxes) actually gained more than 16% in terms of real growth of net incomes over the past twenty years. Those in the so-called "middle classes", if there is such a thing anymore, have not gained much, except possibly a net gain of $53 per annum in real money (constant $2005 dollar) over the past twenty years. The lowest income brackets actually lost almost 20% of their real income over the past twenty years (and this is working low-income ... those forced to rely on government transfer programs are argued to have lost more than 30% over the past 20 years). This is not good enough apparently for those that want further taxes shaved off their annual tax bill ... they don't see any connection to how the suffering of the very poor can very well be connected to more taxes in the future for all of us (including the well-heeled that complain the loudest) and less property security.

All one has to do is sit in a bar or a doughnut shop or a drop-in centre to listen to what people are forced to do, the choices they are being forced to make -- one of course can always choose the honest path, but it turns out that if one does so, they will only fall further behind. If you want a clearer idea about how honesty destroys any chances of getting ahead, read "Why is it so tough to get ahead?" by John Stapleton and his associates at the Metcalf Foundation, which can be downloaded from here. People in subsidized housing are shot down the minute they declare earnings in excess of $100 a month; people on social assistance are shot down by 50% for any dollar they earn whatsoever; people whose annual income exceeds $20.000 a year even by a little bit, begin to lose access to subsidized housing and many other child-related benefits. Those that do not want to lose have to cheat to win, thus which is why we have laws to catch the so-called "scammers". Of course, Kimberly Rogers, of Sudbury, Ontario, who "cheated" welfare in order to get an education and get off the system eventually, was convicted of scamming welfare, because she was not permitted to collect welfare AND go to school. A whole inquest and dozens of recommendations later, nothing changed. Our taxpayers' coalitions and uneducated right continue to clamour on for more and deeper cuts, so they can afford two or even three SUVs and Florida vacations, while "other people" starve.

The reality of the matter is that we are ALL paying for poverty and allowing it to continue. The upper classes may not feel it as much, as most of their investments and concerns are not domestic. However, for everybody else, ranging from the barber, the baker and the candlestick-maker, they have all noticed the impact of increased and tolerated poverty in the past twenty years. Why?

The facts:

1. Poor people do not go to movies, rent videos, buy new clothing, buy jewellery, or eat out.

The more poor people there are, the less people there are in a community that is doing all of those things. This affects small business. Wealthy people who are now allowed to pay less taxes are not going to buy MORE domestic products, because they already have what they need. Why would a wealthy family, for example, go out and buy MORE groceries than they need just because they have more 'disposable' income? Those who are earning less, or getting less on their welfare incomes, are not spending as much, because the cost of their housing is crowding out any other income that would normally be used on groceries, clothing, transportation, eating out, etc.

2. Poor people have poorer health outcomes and are subject to higher health care costs.

One statistic that is particularly shocking is that poor people have four times as much chance of becoming diabetic than those of middle and upper income brackets, even when weight is factored in. Complications from diabetes, such as amputations, heart disease, blindness and high blood pressure are at least twice as likely in low-income diabetics than in diabetics from other social classes. This is even after access to medical plans and universal health care in Canada is accounted for. The poor are twice as likely to develop irreversible heart conditions as others. They are more than three times as likely to suffer from nosocomial (or hospital-based) infections than other people and are more likely to be put into nursing homes, where care is less than optimal. Some people have argued this is almost a deliberate strategy to save money, but most of these people do not die right away, but end up costing hundreds of thousands of more dollars to the system -- even the U.S.-based health care system -- than middle and upper class persons do.

3. Poor families are more likely to be a target of child protection services.

How many of you heard of a wealthy family having their children apprehended from them for reasons of supposed neglect? If this happens at all, it is rare. The wealthy have good lawyers and are also able to hide any neglect they might impose if they were prone to this. The statistics also show that 87% of families that have children's aid involved with them on an ongoing basis are low-income or working class families. The poor are more likely to have a child apprehended from them, usually on the basis of 'environmental conditions'. Perhaps, their teachers reported seeing them without a proper winter coat or regularly coming to school without lunches. Explored further, there are always skeletons that can be exposed in ANY family, but wealthy families do not attract this kind of attention. At a cost of $2,300 per month per child, we as taxpayers need to ask good questions about the accountability of the child protection system and whether or not it is being operated on the basis of social class and culture, as opposed to actual signs of abuse and neglect.

4. Poverty breeds crime.

Middle and upper income people believe that welfare is "prone" to abuse and that because of this, tighter controls need to be placed on recipients. Some even advocate food stamps and direct-pay for rental housing (which if studies of these policies were examined would learn that social class becomes caste-like and stratification between classes becomes impossible for most). What happens to people who have little in a society that seems to have plenty is that some of the poor will attempt to acquire what they feel they deserve through illegal or illicit means ,,, people turn to prostitution, drug dealing, small time theft rings, fraud, etc. to supplement their meagre incomes. Who are these people defrauding? You and me. You and I are the people that answer our phones to "charities" asking for our credit card numbers. You and I use "debit machines" where fraudsters are learning more and more sophisticated skills in skimming. You are I are working in the retail business that is becoming more and more subject to shoplifters and outright robberies. You and I are having to lock our doors, install security systems and take taxis home in order to protect ourselves from the 'seedy' side of our population.

While criminals may have a later motive for drug purchases and addiction, they almost always started with a motive of poverty. They have to pay their rent. They have to eat. They have to earn an income. They have to pay child support. Around them are commercials for fancy home renovations, brand new computerized cars, fancy cell phones, computers and other gadgets that "the rest" of society can afford without having to turn to crime. We think nothing of replacing our car every two or three years, replacing a computer every four years and buying new clothes to attend the latest gala function or wedding of a family or friend. People living in poverty cannot do these things. Some of them suffer because they do not want to risk committing a crime; others become less shy about knocking off the nearest variety store to get what they want ... or get engaged in the drug trade. In seedy neighbourhoods, the drug trade is open and available and for young kids that get nothing at home, the opportunity to drive a nice car, wear expensive jewellery and dress in fashionable clothing is too great. What are we doing as a society other than worsening the situation by sending out non-verbal signals that people of low-incomes are somehow less deserving of a modern life?

Mental health is a major loser as well in all this throw for show societal expectations among us. People who live in subsidized housing and CANNOT get ahead because of housing rules are bound to break them. People who cannot get ahead due to stringent treatment of earnings on welfare are bound to break them. Think about it. If you were forced to pay 80% of your income on taxes today, only to pay a bit more as your income goes up ... will you be less likely to claim your extra income? The rate of tax evasion and "cheating" on income taxes outnumbers the number of people who cheat on welfare by 10 to 1, not because welfare recipients are more honest, but because the dogs are on them all the time! Unfortunately, for many -- NOT claiming their income while on welfare or in subsidized housing is probably the only way they will break the cycle of poverty. This certainly needs to be looked at by the government folks assigned to look into poverty, but even doing this is not going to get poor people to spend more or make them healthier.

This is a very complex situation that needs more of an examination than the cursory one that is given today. Unfortunately, it is the food banks, the charities and the homeless shelters, as well as certain public services that benefit from the presence of the poor ... and these organizations need to be dealt with, not put in charge of any anti-poverty strategy. There are staffers of food banks and homeless shelters making $80,000 and above - why would they want to truly see poverty ended? Wouldn't there be a better incentive by government for example to fund people on the basis of poverty-reduction, as opposed to continuation of the same old - same old? I am not saying many of these people do not have a conscience or are not concerned, but their very livelihoods and thus, their financial interests are geared toward the rapid increase of poverty today!

Poverty is bad for business because poor people do not spend. Poverty is bad for business because poor people cost more in terms of health care, corrections, social services and related expenses. Businesses do not benefit from having to pay more taxes to cover the costs of these things. Poverty is bad for business because there will soon be less and less places to safely locate one's business without having to put up with panhandlers and drug dealers outside your front door. Because we ALL know inherently this is true, I am calling on ALL OF YOU to push the government into developing a serious -- and not superficial or politically smooth sounding plan -- to not only reduce, but to eliminate poverty altogether! It should be considered the scourge of a modern society to even accept the presence of poverty amidst our so-called wealth!

Your thoughts?

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