Infographics are fantastic things. They function like road maps to keep us from becoming lost in complex issues. Citizens for Public Justice whipped one up last year allowing Canadians to make a speedy and direct comparison of the social welfare system with its possible replacement: a guaranteed income. The GLI or Guaranteed Liveable Income emerges right away as a cheaper and less nasty way for Canadians to look out for those in social difficulty. The immediate cost of a GLI is more than balanced out by the reduction in costs accrued to society for the impact of crime, poor health and poor mental health incurred by social difficulty. Not to mention the bureaucracy and poor efficacy of current social welfare programs. We’re talking about billions of dollars and more importantly, the bedrock quality of life here.
The British Medical Journal looked at food costs and the diet/public health relationship in ten countries recently. They confirmed that it costs individuals more to eat fresher, healthier foods but that not making better diets part of public health policy will have high social costs. For a Canadian family the household budget requires an extra two thousand dollars a year to stay off a less healthy diet. With over 1300 comments and several thousand “shares” in just a couple of days CBC online coverage of the report seems to have struck a note with Canadians.
See also: (355) Meal break with Jack Monroe
image: Van Tol Retail via Wikimedia Commons
We like to keep an eye on other countries at suburban-poverty.com. The comparison of social conditions, especially in the other English-speaking countries, lends some insight into where Canada stands, helps us avoid the Fortress North America mentality that appears from time to time. Via the Guardian site today we find Britain looking at an increase in food bank use on the part of people holding jobs. If any one thing undermines the idea of a global economy shaped by neoconservative values it is the phenomenon of those in employment in poverty. An equation straight out of the nineteenth century.
image: tinned beans by Gordon Joly via Wikimedia Commons
An era of leaks this has certainly become. Now available for heaping on the ever-growing mountain of revelations that reflect not exactly positively upon official posture from Iraq to Utah and back again is Project Hero, a report commissioned by the British government for a new intergenerational tax. If financializing debt was a bad idea for American real estate, why is it a good idea for UK student loans?
Raise interest rates on old student loans, secret report propose: proposal is found in Whitehall-commissioned study examining how coalition could privatise entire stock of student loans
image: Chris Moncus via Wikimedia Commons
The British government’s so-called “nudge unit” has had one of its toys taken away. The nudgers are mandated to make special efforts to move what are seen as extra-problematic social welfare cases into employment by taking them to task for personal behaviour seen to be creating barriers to employment. A psychometric test devised by a US firm designed to help subjects of the cabinet-level Downing Street Behavioural Insight Team gain understanding of what they might do besides burden society has failed its scientific validation and its publisher has advised the British government to stop using it. The media is asking questions about the tests and now the whole scheme is looking shallow and unethical at best. Bloggers and other critics describe the test widely as a “sham”, as “bogus” and as “snake oil”.
The four-dozen questions in the test require graded answers to statements about a variety of things such as how often a job seeker creates things of beauty or visits museums. The test was apparently explained to job seekers as objectively able to determine the strengths of the individual taking it. This type of testing is a well-established mini industry unto itself within the world of human resources management and yet this particular tool is now in discredit. It would seem, in this instance, to in fact be a pseudo-scientific instrument used to enforce the idea that unemployment, poverty and social difficulty are the result of defects in character. Such defects in turn are said to be entirely correctable through better decision making, positive thinking, and the creation and enactment of a rational plan of higher goals for oneself within an economy based on rewards for merit, self-knowledge, high levels of effort and freedom of opportunity.
The nudge unit’s days are probably numbered now. It is set to take its ten or so employees into a partially privatized arrangement though it is tough to see how it can have meaningful influence on policy or be seen as credible by its clients after embarrassing itself so much.
image: psycho-surgery in the 1940s by HA Ewing via Wikimedia Commons
Poverty and inequality can wreck human health. No debate there, really. Without our health we are not fully the people we want to be, in our own life or the lives of those around us. Dennis Raphael of York University has researched and written extensively about how Canada is, to be honest, in a state of underachievement in this area. The second edition of his book Poverty In Canada: Implications for Health and Quality of Life was very well received at suburban-poverty.com in the fall of 2011. We recently came across some further sources from Professor Raphael and pass them on via this posting.
Professor Raphael discussed Tackling Health Inequalities: Lessons From International Experiences online at Griffith’s University’s Podcasts for Social Workers earlier this month. He was the editor of this work, released in the fall of 2012, and in it expresses concern Canada has become a laggard in preventing avoidable, unjust situations that degrade health outcomes. Valuable stuff… Podsocs Episode 38 37:05
Data from Poverty in Canada and newer material has been made available online in .pdf format. Professor Raphael is critical of mainstream media attention to these issues and he hopes to go directly to people with his findings. Here’s the link:
Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts
Along with co-author Juha Mikkonen, Raphael seeks to expose the general public and mass media to the overwhelming evidence that living conditions (housing, income, medical care, social supports and the like) trump individual lifestyle approaches (cutting down on cola consumption for example) in determining who will be healthy or not. Social policy in turn, which is deliberately chosen in societies like Canada, has a massive influence on who stays healthy. This runs contrary to the view that we as individuals are solely responsible for our health and had hence better get ourselves to the local gym, credit card in hand. If we are low income Canadians, it would seem our health is at risk from our social class. This is even more true for children. Internationally, we see the social democratic countries of northern Europe spending more to protect their people from class-derived health damage – and reaping a social benefit for doing so.
See a lecture! The Politics of Population Health
York U material from Nursing 5190
Also, a presentation at the University of Toronto on how Canada stacks up against other nations in providing citizens with economic & social security.
Vital Discussions of Human Security vimeo.com 80:49
Series of talks at University of Toronto 2011-2012
See also: (62) Poverty in Canada [Book review]