Health unit asks residents to consider advocacy for Christmas

By Cecilia Nasmith

In the spirit of the season, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit asks local residents to consider a gift that can't be purchased on-line or elsewhere – advocacy on behalf of those most in need.

The health unit has issued a press release urging people to take a stand against poverty in Northumberland County, where 16% of local children live in poverty.

The health unit also cited a recent study indicating that a living wage in Northumberland – what a family of four with both parents working full-time would require to cover basic expenses in 2018 - would be $17.95 per hour. This amount falls almost $4 short of Ontario's current minimum wage.

The generous donations of time and money members of this community come through with at this time of year do help in the short term, said Krista Nairns, a Social Determinants of Health Nurse at the health unit. But for the long haul, supporting solutions that get to the root causes of poverty can make an even bigger difference.

In considering ways people can work toward keeping poverty under wraps, Nairns added, one of the most obvious is to be kind and non-judgmental in one's attitude toward low-income earners.

“Being poor isn't a choice,” she stated.

“There are many reasons why people live in poverty, much of it beyond their own control.”

Nairns listed a number of conditions that contribute to what has been called the poverty trap, including an inability to get reliable, secure work, lack of affordable housing options, and an inability to afford healthy food or good child care.

“All of these factors contribute to poverty, which in turn can hurt people's health,” she stated.

Nairns considers income-based solutions essential to address poverty successfully, and residents can show they care by acts of advocacy – getting behind increased social-assistance rates, calling for living wages for workers, supporting basic employment standards to reduce unstable work situations, and encouraging the construction of more affordable housing units.

“Raise awareness and lobby for change by talking to your family, friends, neighbours and elected officials about the importance of these income-based solutions,” she urged.

The benefits go beyond helping those in poverty, Nairns pointed out. The ripple effect goes out to everyone, boosting the local economy when everyone has stable jobs that pay living wages. Communities become healthier when everyone has a safe and affordable place to live, can afford nutritious food and is able to participate in recreational activities. Local families eventually face less stress, while children are better able to grow, thrive and succeed in school.