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Hugh Segal on Fighting Poverty

This is a great lecture from Hugh Segal, a former cabinet minister here in Canada and now a Canadian Senator. He’s what is typically called a “Red Tory” in that he holds many progressive attitudes towards social programs and how they should be utilized in a liberal democracy.

I would recommend everyone watch, it’s well worth it. It reflects my worldview in how we can better deal with poverty, especially in Canada.

Some of the things I learned include the facts that:

  • 3 million Canadians live below the poverty line.
  • The guaranteed old age supplement reduced the number of seniors in poverty to less than 3% from near 17% or so.
  • If we created a guaranteed minimum income in Canada it would provide $5k-10k per person (for those 3 million aforementioned).
  • This would cost Canada about $15B/year.
  • However, we would eliminate the entire Welfare system and its bureaucracy, thereby eliminating its annual cost to Canadian taxpayers.
  • Furthermore, by eliminating Welfare we’d provide much needed dignity to Canadians as their financial situations would not have to be highlighted in a Welfare Line at the local Welfare Office. Instead, Revenue Canada would provide a cash credit to those who fall below the poverty line.
  • Also, eliminating Welfare would eliminate patently unfair practices such as clawing back welfare payments if a son or daughter works part time so as to save money for education, etc.
  • It would also provide students with a minimum income, allowing more students of the poor to attend universities.
  • Studies where minimum incomes were attempted saw a major drop in crime, which means less expense to police which in turn saves money.
  • Studies also show that implementing a minimum guaranteed income would probably be a financial wash (cost of the program less the cost of our current welfare system).
  • Segal also figures that we could rework EI back into UI, making it again do what it was supposed to do — provide UNEMPLOYMENT insurance.

The summary of the talk can be that Hugh Segal has little time or use for how we deal with poverty at the moment. And for those who say that providing such a minimum would only result in the poor buying drugs and alcohol, studies done in Canada, the US and the UK show that when additional income was provided to those living on the street — the poorest of the poor in Western society — most (85+%) got themselves a clean room and tried to better themselves. Less than 15% bought drugs and alcohol. Makes sense to try to help the vast majority that want to better their lives than worry that a minority will abuse the system.

I wish he’d actually write a book about it as I’d definitely pick up a copy, especially if he’d make it reference all the various research he mentions in his lecture. Hopefully someone in our current government will listen to Mr. Segal and maybe we can move towards a more equitable environment for everyone.

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December 2012
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