Opinion Column

Stop B.C.'s ‘perpetual poverty machine'

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours



When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist. - Hélder Câmara, Catholic Archbishop

If Jesus came back on his birthday this Christmas, one of his first missions would be to close food banks — all of them.

Not because they aren’t vitally important in feeding the poor, but because food banks are not a solution to poverty — and never will be.

Here in B.C., food banks were started as a temporary measure to deal with growing numbers of people going hungry.

It’s definitely not working.

More than 100,000 people visited a food bank in B.C. this past March, a 2.8% increase over last year. And nationally, 852,137 people went to food banks, a 1% jump — about one-third of those served were children.

“Food banks don’t solve the problem, they ameliorate the problem,” says Bill Hopwood of anti-poverty advocacy group Raise The Rates.

Jesus said 2,000 years ago, according to the Bible: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed.”

Hopwood told me Sunday food banks merely treat a symptom, not the problem.

“If people kept falling off a cliff and injuring themselves you don’t build a hospital at the foot of the cliff, you put up a fence at the top,” he said.

And yet B.C. is the only province with no poverty reduction plan.

Even worse, the BC Liberal government froze abysmally low welfare and disability benefit rates in 2008.

The pathetic amount single people on welfare get is $610 a month for shelter, food and all other expenses. Those with disabilities only get $906 monthly.

Why won’t regular churchgoer Premier Christy Clark follow the Bible and increase rates, plus more affordable housing, a higher minimum wage and accessible child care?

NoVo Foundation chair Peter Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett, wrote about “conscience laundering” through charity: “As long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine. It’s an old story — we really need a new one.”

It’s a story as old as the Bible — and the ending isn’t getting any better every Christmas since.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com or Email: weststar@telus.net Twitter: @BillTieleman 


Should the government or food banks using voluntary charitable contributions be responsible for relieving poverty?