Letter: Economic inequality must be addressed

Experts in Prince Edward County inform us that more than 37 per cent of our children are formally identified as at risk, that up to 20 per cent of our households live in circumstances of food insecurity, and that at least 19 per cent of our young people live in poverty.

In addition, over the last decade approximately 6,000 Canadian children have committed suicide; and in 2016 the Kids Help Phone Line charity found that one in five of our children seriously considered suicide.

Yes, social media and bullying are hugely serious factors. But the gig economy, and the growing gap between rich and poor, present a more fundamental threat to our youth and most vulnerable.

The journal, Circulation, published in the U.S., recently published findings that young adults suffering income uncertainty have more than twice the risk of death from stokes and cardiac arrest when compared to the more economically secure in our society.

The Canadian data is even more pointed. Statistics Canada documents that men in the lowest 20 per cent of income distribution are 67 per cent more likely to die in any given year than the wealthiest 20 percent.

For women the figure is 52 per cent more likely.

And these vulnerable die from such proven stress-related and poor lifestyle diseases as cancer, heart disease,diabetes, respiratory ailments, and general injuries.

To quote Statistics Canada: “Income influences health most directly through access to material resources such as better quality of food and shelter”.

A new and well-researched book titled The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-being by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, bluntly blames economic inequality for suicide, drug abuse and accelerating mental illness.

In sum, when the distribution of income gap grows, so do serious social and health malfunctions… and that impacts all of us. Here in Canada and Ontario, municipal organizations such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities with their 2017 publication Ending Poverty Starts Locally: Municipal Recommendations For A Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy; and the City of London, Ontario, and their London For All: A Roadmap To End Poverty released in 2016, give us both hope and models. Lastly, a citizens’ prescription for all levels of government might be that we better co-operate in providing basic income standards, adequate social safety nets, low (or no) fee educational opportunities, truly attainable housing options, free and compassionate health care, and transparent governance… while co-investing in our flagging physical, learning and social infrastructure. In these hyper-partisan times that might appear overly optimistic… but if acts of political omission and commission are now amounting to social murder, do we really have a choice?

Bill Roberts