End poverty day

October 17 was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty –a good week to reiterate the importance of working to eradicate poverty and inequality in our country.

I have written on many different occasions about the connections between poverty and mental health. Individuals living with mental illness are far more likely to be underemployed or living in poverty than those without mental illness. Likewise, the poor are also more likely to be in poor mental and physical health than the more affluent in society.

In many Western countries including Canada and the US, health follows a social gradient. It is predictable and follows a pattern from one end of the socioeconomic spectrum to the other. The lower the economic position, the worse the health and the shorter the lifespan.

This doesn’t just apply to the very poor. The moderately wealthy are not as healthy as the very wealthy, the middle class are not as healthy as the moderately wealthy, and so on.

Simple compassion ought to move us toward action when it comes to poverty. There are thousands of people in Canada with no homes, no jobs and living on a very insufficient income through social assistance. Add serious physical or mental illness to that plight and it paints a pretty grim picture of the daily existence of many within even our own society.

However, if that thought doesn’t stir compassion, perhaps self-interest will provoke some to take an interest in joining the fight against poverty and inequality. As I said above, the health gradient doesn’t only affect the very poor. It touches everyone and the reasons behind the discrepancies in health have to do with the environment in which people are born, grow up and age.

What can we do to improve the health outcomes of the whole of society?

Of course our healthcare system attempts to address these inequalities by offering care to everyone, but we still have a less than universal system. Prescription medication is just one area that is far from universally accessible. In this and other ways, the wealthy have a clear advantage over the poor.

I don’t need to mention the many areas outside of the medical system where there are gaps in opportunity between income brackets. Closing some of these gaps would likely make a great impact on the health of many in our country.

Coinciding with the international day for the eradication of poverty, a BC group called Raise the Rates is challenging people to spend one week eating a poverty diet – spending only $26 for a week’s worth of food.

This is the approximate amount a single, able-bodied British Columbian living on welfare has for food after other basic expenses. It is difficult to imagine covering all the nutritional bases on this amount of money. One more barrier to health for those in the lowest income bracket.

For more information on poverty in our province as well as the initiatives in place to help reduce its effects, check out the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition website at www.bcpovertyreduction.ca.


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