CONTRIBUTION: London is Better Off by Helping its Worst Off

It is better to give than to receive and with Christmas behind us it is worth reflecting on a facet of the city of London that I think is one of its real strengths – its charitable character. When it comes to charity I am not one to draw comparisons but over the holidays the CBC reported a Fraser Institute report which suggested that Canadians were less charitable than their American cousins.

With all the do-goodery that is happening in London it is difficult to believe.

Consider Mayor Matt Brown’s establishment of an advisory panel on poverty which has been busy conducting Basic Income London Ontarionumerous fact gathering initiatives and events in London for the purpose of understanding how the community defines poverty, what gaps and barriers exist, and the solutions that participants prefer.

London has begun the social process of settling the first Syrian refugee families in the city with the Thames Valley District School Board going so far as to establish a GENTLE program (Guided Entry to New Teaching and Learning Experiences) at White Oaks Public School with the goal of welcoming the whole family from young children to adults in supporting their learning needs in one place.

Another success story involves the Business Cares program founded by our former Member of Parliament in London West, the Honourable Ed Holder, which set out to accumulate 291,000 lbs of food for London’s Food Bank and shattered that goal by 20,000 lbs! A lesser known success regards the Bridges out of Poverty/Circles program which began raising money for their Micro Loan initiative aimed at helping Londoners overcome employment barriers, transition out of poverty, and achieve self-sufficiency.

This hardly scratches the surface of what is happening in London when it comes to boots-on-the-ground poverty reduction in the city nor does it address the broader discussions surrounding some higher level ideas being debated; most notably Housing First and Basic Income.

There is an argument which exists suggesting that London’s charitable disposition may not necessarily be strategically advantageous. According to Charles Tiebout, citizens behave as consumers choosing their community based on the set of services which best serve their interests. If London provides better poverty services relative to its municipal competitors it risks attracting more poor resulting in a drain on the city.

Like all economic theories, this one depends on a number of assumptions which do not necessarily play well with reality. It does not take into consideration moving costs, assumes consumers have perfect information, that communities behave rationally by working to keep “bad” consumers away, and that the foremost decision to live somewhere is a financial one.

The chief pathology of basing poverty reduction strategies on the wherewithal of the Tiebout Hypothesis is that it limits creativity when it comes to policy solutions resulting in sub-optimal outcomes because it harms the political will to pursue poverty reduction strategies that are aggressive but proven to be economically less expensive and socially more just.

For instance, the Housing First strategy which has been extensively proven to have significant rewards has been pursued with trepidation. Of all cities to lead the way on this initiative it has been Medicine Hat, Alberta, a city in the heart of conservative country which has seen the light on pragmatic government solutions ending homelessness while saving public money and alleviating pressure on public services.

Basic Income is another idea offering similar socio-economic benefits but knee-jerk reactions brush it off as pinko-nonsense. Opponents argue that it panders to loafers looking to mooch off the industrious but the question is not as cut and dry as this and worth debating. What if findings suggest that basic income is a more economic, efficient, and effective way to administer government welfare than the current expensive, mindboggling, and fragmented system? What if basic income actually resulted in LOWER taxes? I would like answers to those questions before passing it up.

My observation is that London’s social conscience has a desire to do more for those who are the worst off in the city, but when economic rationalities and dogmatic philosophical views combine, barriers persist and inaction results. Like Victor Hugo I believe we must destroy poverty and that there is a duty not to reduce, limit, or contain it but to eliminate it completely. As Hugo said: “Poverty is a disease of society such as leprosy was a disease of the human body, and can be eliminated just as leprosy has disappeared. Yes, it is possible. Legislators and policymakers must think about it constantly, for as long as the possible is not done, our duty will never be fulfilled.”

Jake Skinner
Jake Skinner

Jake Skinner is a Contributor to the London Institute. He is a PhD Candidate in Local Government at Western University and a Thames Valley School Board Trustee in Wards 7,8,9,10,13. He holds a master’s degree in American Studies and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

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  • Kevan Ashworth

    Another compelling article to inspire us all to eradicate poverty.When will we collectively act?
    The scriptures say “and there shall be no poor among you” for a reason. K Ashworth

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London OntarioMayor Matt Brown