Canada is a wealthy country with a strong economy and many social support programs, yet over four million Canadians regularly struggle to make ends meet, maintain affordable and adequate housing, feed their families, and address basic needs. In Niagara region alone, our food banks have difficulty meeting demand and over 4500 households are on the centralized wait list for affordable housing. We can and must do better.

There are many important roles for the federal government to play to help reduce poverty across Canada, as outlined on the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network website www.wipeoutpoverty.ca. One of these roles is the creation of a national plan of action on poverty. Despite multiple calls by the United Nations, a Senate committee, and a House of Commons committee for Canada to create a plan, one has not been developed.

Mike Balkwill, provincial organizer of the Put Food in the Budget Campaign has travelled through Northern Ontario for the past two weeks, advocating for social justice and change.

He made a stop at the Soup Kitchen last week. He arrived in town to hear the voices of some of the city’s most marginalized citizens.

Staff said it was a slow day for the Soup Kitchen — only 150 people stopped in for lunch.

-What to do with all these hungry people? Give them surplus food!

-What to do with all this surplus food? Give it to hungry people! Win, win, win. Problems solved!

But in reality, each is a discrete and gargantuan problem. We cannot be complacent believing that the current food recovery and donation model can solve both. Allow me to illustrate …

Modern social assistance, in which governments provide financial support to the unemployed, has been around since the Great Depression, and it’s been controversial for just as long.

The primary complaint by opponents is that it removes the incentive to work, resulting in efforts to make welfare as unpleasant as possible, from below-poverty-line payments and complicated qualification rules to judgmental monitoring and, in the U.S., dehumanizing drug tests.

But there’s an approach to poverty building momentum lately called the Basic Income Guarantee and in the Dutch city of Utrecht the theory is about to be put to the test.

People who experience food insecurity are more likely to be diagnosed with a variety of chronic conditions, and have difficulty managing those conditions, says a Toronto-based researcher.

“From many vantages it’s a stronger indicator of poor health than poverty is,” said Valerie Tarasuk, a professor with the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2013 Canadian Community Health Survey, around 12.5 per cent of households in Ontario, or roughly 1.6 million people in the province, experience food insecurity.

“We know the single biggest determinant of household food security status is income,” Tarasuk said. “The lower the income, the greater the risk.”

Poverty. Why don’t we end it once and for all?

The assumption is that we can’t afford to. Are we sure? What would it cost exactly? Answer: about $16 billion a year in today’s dollars. Big money. Yet nowhere near as much as it is costing us now to keep it going.

In total, governments spent $13 billion in welfare payments in 2009, the last year for which numbers are available. Say $15 billion in today’s dollars. Those on EI who are classified as poor account for another $3 billion a year or so. Now add the costs of administration — about $4 billion. All to keep the wheels of the system turning. And turn they do, without end, and without ending poverty.