I’ve known all along that I wouldn’t receive an answer, but I felt I needed to try, and not just assume.
The assumption, which a recent conversation with a party member online solidified for me, is that not only do people on social assistance not have any political influence, but that it would be political suicide for any party to publicly acknowledge our demands.
The media and the pollsters are predicting a landslide victory for the BC NDP in the 2013 election. The election is theirs to lose, as my online friend said. Raising welfare rates is not an issue for most people in the province. There exists no real reason for the BC NDP to admit they want to raise welfare rates.
To be fair, they’ve been talking around the issue for years, and the recent experiment by Jagrup Brar, who lived for a month at the welfare rate, provides a hint of hope that they may actually do the right thing once they got into power.
So that puts those of us who find this issue of the utmost importance in an interesting situation. We are not going to receive confirmation that the NDP are willing to end the human rights violation that is the current welfare system. But they might, and even if they don’t, it’s a 100% guarantee that the Liberals or the Progressive Clownservatives won’t.
As I mentioned before, the NDP cut welfare rates the last time they were in power, so it’s not unreasonable to question their commitment to raise them back up.
I am fully aware that there exists within the membership of the party a strong commitment to social justice, and I am certain that there will be many people exerting whatever influence they can to see to it that all people have a livable income. The recent victory of centrist (and some would say borderline neo-liberal) Thomas Mulcair in the federal NDP leadership race again makes me question what influence the progressive left has in determining policy these days, and what the party is willing to compromise to take and stay in power.
At the root of this whole issue is the debate surrounding deserving and undeserving poor, which (as far as the dominant North American culture is concerned) goes back as far as the English Poor Law of 1601, and continues to be divisive point among the electorate in most countries around the world. Another catch-phrase you will hear these days associated with this debate is ‘personal responsibility’, which is usually uttered by Republicans in the states to justify cutting state assistance to people in need.
At any time the population is roughly divided between believing that poverty is a systemic issue, and one of personal responsibility, and often enough more people than not believe the latter. This makes it very tricky to make changes to government that will improve the lives of those whose poverty is most certainly systemically caused.
I believe that most poverty has a mixture of causes, including what it know as cyclical causes, which can mean that it was perhaps personal choice that led someone into poverty, but lack of assistance or other factors beyond their control that is keeping them in poverty.
Governments all over the world (and most opposition parties) have for decades been operating under neo-liberal principles that have entrenched the idea that less government is good and that economic growth with benefit the poor through the trickle-down theory. We know it to be false, but changing this paradigm has proven difficult. The political system is such that the radical change necessary to provide immediate relief to those living in oppressive poverty is pretty much impossible. Only incremental change is politically safe.
This is a reality I think many of us living in poverty need to accept. By no means should we stop protesting and demanding our rights, but we also need to realize that help is not coming quickly enough, if at all.
We, as human beings, and not as citizens of a government, need to be building systems to ensure our needs and the needs of others in our community are being met. There is resistance to this among left-leaning people because it’s pretty much what the right wing wants us to do, to find private market solutions to things we think government should be responsible for.
The difference between what right-wingers/clownservatives expect us to do and what we could be doing is to not just be organizing to meet the needs of the individual, but to meet the needs of the community.
I could start a business to provide for my family and encourage others to do the same, or I could be part of a worker’s co-op that provides for it’s members and reaches out to those in need in the community. Worker’s co-operatives are but one example of projects we can take on that will replace the need for charity while laying the groundwork for larger systemic change. A need exists to be monumentally creative and to put a serious amount of hard work into locating, creating and distributing resources.
I am grateful for the solidarity and support that more affluent people give to our efforts to reduce poverty, but when it comes down to it, we are politically isolated, and need to take control of our situation.
I remain optimistic that one day well-meaning people struggling through the political system will build a just society, but I am also a realist, and I know that the help we can expect from any political party is woefully inadequate, and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do what we need to do.