Some uncharitable thoughts at Christmastime

Posted: December 18, 2006 in Uncategorized

Canada’s national phone-in show, CBC’s Cross Country Checkup, invited listeners, yesterday, to call and write in on the topic of charity. The question: “What motivates you to give charity? What puts you off?” And for two hours, listeners told their stories.

We learned that most charitable giving in Canada involves the faithful supporting their churches, that people are increasingly skeptical about professional fund raisers and the charity industry, and that many, if not most of the people who phoned in were somewhat self-satisfied with their contributions.

Listeners were invited to email comments as well, and you can find a selection here.

I’m the last person in the world to criticize generosity. I believe that people who share their money and/or their time to help someone else deserve respect. But I gotta tell ya, I really wish someone had seriously questioned why one of the wealthiest countries on the planet needs so many charities in the first place.

Leaving aside whether churches and think tanks (like the Fraser Institute) should be recipients of tax deductible charitable donations in the first place, why do we have so many people in need and why do they have to depend on the charitable whims of their fellow citizens?

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but people are poor when they do not have enough money. And dependence on charity arises when governments evade their responsibilities.

So what is poverty, anyway? The Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD) has published a handy little fact sheet that sets it out in tabular form. A single person living in a major Canadian city would be considered poor if she earned $20,778 before taxes. The same person living in a rural area could evade poverty by making $14,303. A family of four would need an income of $38,610 to live in Winnipeg, and only $26,579 to live in the country, and so on.

According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees: “A wage of less than $10 an hour is widely accepted as a low pay poverty wage because a single individual working full-time all year would need at least this amount to earn above Statistics Canada’s low income levels for a larger Canadian city. Single parents and those supporting more than themselves require at least $13 an hour to reach these low income levels.”

Also according to CUPE: “analysis of detailed labour force survey data for 2005 shows:

  • Over 17% of Canadian workers (more than 2.3 million) were paid less than $10 per hour in 2005.
  • More than one in five of all working women – over 1.4 million – were paid less than $10 an hour in 2005.
  • One in eight male workers (12.8%), or 892,000 workers, were paid a poverty wage in 2005.
  • Over 1.1 million of those working for less than $10 an hour were 25 years of age or older.
  • More than 50% – or over 1.3 million – of all young workers were paid less than $10.
  • A high ratio of seniors – more than 21% — also work for less than $10 an hour.
  • More than 1.2 million “full-time” workers (defined as those who worked more than 30 hours at their main job) were paid less than $10 an hour at this job. Many other low paid workers worked multiple jobs at low wages, but were classified as part-time.”

That’s the so-called “working poor.” Folks who rely on social assistance are worse off, both financially and in the sense that they are in most cases unable to escape dependence on a miserly state.

So, how poor are they? Once again, the CCSD has a useful fact sheet. Check them out. Social assistance rates, depending on where you live and if you have dependents, provide from 20% to 73% of what you need to reach the poverty line. They are a disgrace. And 2.5 million Canadians live that reality.

Is it any wonder that the number of food banks in Canada has grown from one, 25 years ago, to 649 this year. Or that the Canadian Association of Food Banks reports that over 750,000 people per month use their services?

As I stated so simplemindedly: people are poor when they do not have enough money. And dependence on charity arises when governments evade their responsibilities.

We are long overdue for two reforms in this country that would go a long way to relieving poverty:

  1. increase the minimum wage to a living wage
  2. increase social assistance rates to enable those who are unable to work to live above the poverty line

We can afford it. The federal government (and every provincial government, excluding that of PEI) have posted budgetary surpluses in the past year. There is no shortage of cash; all that is needed is political will.

If every person who made a charitable donation in the past year (however this is defined) were to insist that our elected officials would enact these two measures, the need for charity in Canada would diminish greatly.

Charity, on the domestic front at least, would be reserved for exceptional circumstances. What an uncharitable thought.

  1. Cath Rachey says:

    Hi Paul! I really enjoyed todays posting and thought you might find the statistics for Vancouver mind-blowingly ridiculous! So I’ll pass them along for you to “muse” 🙂 over when I get a chance to look them up. Suffice to say social services pays $500 per month and I couldn’t find an apartment that was livable for under $900/month when I moved a few months ago. I guess on the east side you can find one for about $600/month but social services still leaves you short on rent alone. The downtown eastside is the only place you can live on that and it has the worst drug/prostitution problem in North America. Ya…. great place to raise a family! Sheesh!!!


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