The People’s Place Library was the location of a serious conversation about poverty in Nova Scotia on Sept. 18. The Antigonish Poverty Reduction Coalition hosted A People’s School on Poverty: Building Awareness and Inspiring Action.
The Tuesday event was split between two main segments – a talk by Christine Saulnier on the root causes of poverty, and what must be done to properly address them, and a conversation between guests on how to deal with poverty, and its causes in light of what they learned from Saulnier’s talk.
Saulnier, the Nova Scotia director for the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, spoke about the many, sometimes intersecting factors that impoverish people – and keep them in a state of poverty.
These factors include being the earner in a single-parent household, the role the wage gap between men and women plays, the role in being of a certain race, of having a disability or the level of education an individual possesses.
Saulnier stressed that poverty has many dimensions, to a room full of more than 50 guests.
She described poverty as being “systemic,” noting it sometimes complicates and stymies efforts of people, to get and stay working, to get and stay out of poverty, and that it can’t be solved on a case-by-case basis; only through the proper addressing of issues through which the system makes and keeps people poor.
“It’s important that we don’t blame them – we need to look at the structures around them,” Saulnier said.
When it comes to work, Saulnier noted there are two types of situations people face. The first is people who are “transitional,” facing layoffs or dropping out of the labour force because they have no supports – an ongoing situation.
The other situation Saulnier described was people “who have been there a long time,” facing barriers to getting out of poverty. This group can include people with disabilities, who are unable to work without specific supports in place.
Saulnier referenced inflation and the growing cost of living as factors which can lead to poverty, creating a segment of the population called “the working poor,” people who are employed but are living at the poverty level.
“We are productive. Canada is one of the richest countries in the world,” Saulnier said. “Nova Scotia’s GDP is rising, but earnings haven’t followed the growth in the economy.”
Solutions Saulnier suggested to help combat poverty in Nova Scotia communities included more affordable housing, better wages, better access to transportation, childcare and information technology – to name a few. She also stressed that a greater amount of government investment in public services is needed.
Antigonish is the fourth community Saulnier spoke about the issue of poverty, after speaking in Truro, Berwick and Amherst. Saulnier said it is challenging, on the community level, to take action against poverty, but noted she helps communities develop strategies on the municipal level.
“If we don’t take a systems approach and focus on poverty beyond the individual level, it’s not a sustainable approach,” Saulnier said after her presentation at the library.
She emphasized that helping a community overcome a poverty problem hinges on “asking the right questions” to figure out the root causes, and what can be done to correct them.
“People are looking at the gaps, and how you can fix those – whether those are housing, transportation, ensuring people get a decent income, and access to services,” Saulnier said. “All of those things are part of building a system to help people get and stay out of poverty.”