“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” ~Nelson Mandela Source: http://www.hakikazi.org We tend to objectify poverty. We see the poor, not f…
“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” ~Nelson Mandela
We tend to objectify poverty. We see the poor, not for who they are, but as a ‘condition’. Poor people become ‘things’ which we must deal with and take care of. As a society, we often understand poverty through poverty myths which have been with us for hundreds of years. Our social programs are created through these long-standing myths. We believe that poverty can be eliminated simply by providing charity and financial aid to people unable to take care of themselves.
Policies which deal with poverty as a stand-alone condition tend to treat the poor the same way across the world. It is clear that all communities have different needs, however! The many conditions which lead to poverty are different in each community.
The Developed World has created poverty reduction strategies which benefit corporations and multi-national industries. Agencies like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), charitable Christian Missions, and the World Bank can cause more harm than good, because they institute polices which promote ‘hidden agendas’. These agendas often benefit the corporations more than the communities.
Some institutions, like food banks, can serve to increase poverty, rather than reduce it. Food banks can increase health problems in poor individuals. Highly processed food options which many food banks provide can increase obesity, diabetes, and malnutrition. This results in decreased capacity to work. Social welfare programs become more costly. More taxes are needed. More laws are needed. More administrative offices are needed to manage increased paperwork and tracking systems. The system becomes unwieldy and inaccessible to people who need help. Most importantly, the poor are made to feel that they must take whatever is given them – after all, “beggars can’t be choosers”.
Before receiving assistance, the poor must prove they are ‘worthy’ of help. Food recipients are interviewed to make sure they aren’t taking advantage of the system. In some cases, they have to prove they are not using drugs or abusing alcohol. In other cases, applicants must agree to attend classes or religious workshops before they can get help.
Poverty myths are at play here. Poor people are seen as uneducated con artists who would rather receive handouts than engage in meaningful work. They are weighed, measured, and judged to be worthy or not. The poor exist on the fringes of ‘proper’ society. They are dehumanized and ‘undesirables’ who must be taken care of. We seem to have progressed very little from the policies of Victorian England.
“Please, sir, I want some more…” Source: www.thirdforcenews.org.uk
Our social policies are based in poverty myths. These myths must be abolished before we can hope to eliminate poverty. People are not ‘things’, and poverty is not a “thing”. The conditions which cause poverty are different and unique to every individual. UN SDGs may not be met, because poverty is addressed as a stand-alone condition in the world. We cannot address poverty as a stand-alone condition. We must work with each community to find out what is causing their poverty. The real question remains – “How do we do this?”
Two things must happen if we are to make the “elimination of poverty by 2030” a reality. First, we must overcome our personal poverty myths. We must understand that the conditions which lead to poverty are not the result of individual shortcomings. Poor individuals are often victims of circumstances well out of their control. They are people worthy of assistance – each with an important story to tell. Next, marginalised communities are comprised of unique individuals. Because of this, no two communities are the same, even when located in close proximity to each other. The International Development community must recognise this, and collaborate with each community to discover their unique stories, experiences and needs. Community members must have a lead role in the planning and implementation of projects!
In a previous blog series, I introduced the idea of a four C’s checklist (http://bit.ly/2bntwen) which can be used to work with marginalised communities – communities which don’t have access to the resources they need to sustain themselves. The four C’s include:
Any poverty reduction strategy which involves each of the four C’s has greater potential for helping, rather than harming, a community. One strategy which may serve impoverished communities on a global scale is currently being used in Ontario. Community hubs are a strategy which is collaborative and based in the understanding that every community has unique needs.
In 2015, the Ontario government outlined a strategic framework and action plan to help impoverished communities within the province. This plan established a nine-member advisory group for establishing community hubs. Each community hub is a centralised access point which provides social and health services, while also working to create special cultural, recreational, and green spaces for each community. Most importantly, each community hub is uniquely different – and depends on the specific needs of the community.
Community hubs will not work, however, unless there is complete cooperation everyone involved! Barriers to income and food security (unjust laws, lack of infrastructure, and social inequality) must be removed. It takes everyone involved to accomplish this.
Poverty cannot be addressed as a stand-alone ‘condition’. Poverty is caused by specific barriers which are unique to each community. Barriers to sustainability, social equality, food security, and access to resources must be addressed differently in each community. The community hub model can be successful, as long as everyone involved has an equal say in what happens. We must accept that poverty-stricken communities have the capacity, knowledge, and willingness to improve their condition.
Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!
“As usual, in every scheme that worsens the position of the poor, it is the poor who are invoked as beneficiaries.” ~Vandana Shiva
An important event occurred in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside (DTES) in 2014. This event highlighted all that can go wrong when government agencies offload responsibility for the poor to private enterprise. In a Globe and Mail article, the DTES was described as the “epicenter of the poverty industry.” It is a space marked by extreme poverty and homelessness. More than a hundred social agencies can be found here – each one is dedicated to helping the poor.
DTES “Paint-In”. Source: www.news1130.com
The Portland Hotel Society (PHS) is one of these organizations. The PHS manages housing for the homeless. Some of the programs PHS offers are very controversial – including vending machines which disperse cheap crack pipes and workshops for teaching alcoholics how to brew ‘safe’ beer. PHS receives funding from the Federal government. In 2014 Mark Townsend, the executive director of PHS, was audited.
Audits showed that Townsend and his wife used government funding for expenses which included trips to Paris and Vienna. He and his family took trips to Disneyland, ate at expensive restaurants, and took a Danube cruise – all at the tax-payer’s expense. Although Townsend defended many of his expenses and admitted to making mistakes, his actions raise an important question:
“Do privatized, profit-driven corporations always act in the best interests of the poor they are funded to help?” The answer is a resounding “No”!
There are so many examples today where the Poverty Industry has harmed the poor. Last week, I discussed the example of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The government hired private industries to assist in recovery and rebuilding. People who could afford supplies and services benefited, while residents of the lower Ninth Ward were marginalized and forgotten in the aftermath. The poverty industry also harms the poor on a global scale.
In 1978, U.S. pig farmers became concerned by an outbreak of African swine flu in Haiti. The U.S. gave $23 million to Haiti to exterminate and restock their pig population. Haiti killed over 1.3 million pigs by 1984. Once again, the U.S. stepped in to ‘help’, and replaced the previous population with Iowa-born pigs. This plan demanded that new pigsties were built to U.S. standards. Many poor farmers could not afford these standards. Even worse, the Iowa pigs could not withstand the Haitian environment and either died or required expensive food. In the end, thousands of Haitian farmers were left with no pigs – and Iowa hog farmers were better off for it…
“Pigs for Kids in Haiti”. Source: www.internationalministries.org
In 1986, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned $24.6 million to Haiti. The Haitian government had to agree to reduce trade tariffs on rice in order to get the loan. U.S. rice farmers were allowed to export rice to Haiti. The livelihoods of local farmers were destroyed. Haiti now imports most of its rice from the U.S. Poor Haitians can no longer afford rice. The U.S. provided food aid, but most of that money went to U.S. farmers and companies. The poor became poorer. U.S. agribusiness became richer.
In 2010, Former President Bill Clinton made a public apology to Haitians for the role the U.S. had played in destroying the livelihoods of Haitian rice farmers. Explaining that “we made a devil’s bargain”, Clinton stated,
“Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake.”
Canadian industry is guilty of harm to the global poor as well. In the 1970s, Canada began a $45 million wheat farming program in Tanzania. This program was designed to help poor farmers. The result was anything but helpful! First, over 60,000 acres of land was taken from the Barabaig people. Members of this community were migratory cattle farmers who needed the land for grazing. Next, costly and mechanized farming methods were used. These methods required purchasing expensive equipment from Canadian corporations. Finally, these methods produced unimaginable soil erosion. Tropical downpours soon produced deep gullies in the landscape. Even more money was spent trying to fill in these gullies. In the end, Tanzanian farmers were producing less wheat than before. Once again – the poor became poorer… and Canadian agribusiness was lining its pockets.
Barabaig woman. Source: www.flickr.com
Many other examples of the harm the poverty industry causes the world’s poor exist. I discussed some of these examples in a previous blog post titled The Four C’s of Social Justice: Creating a Foundation for Change. Check out www.spatialintegrity.co to read this blog (and many more). It is clear that the poverty industry has been counterproductive to the mission of today’s UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Things need to change if we want to really help the poor! Next week, I will discuss some of the things we need to do if we are committed to eliminating poverty by 2030. Private enterprise can help the poor, but only if important changes take place! Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!
“It’s going to all be private enterprise before it’s over… They’ve got the expertise. They’ve got the resources.” ~Billy Wagner, emergency management chief for the Florida Keys
Canada spent $5.8 billion toward International assistance efforts in 2015. These tax-payer dollars went to helping the poor with disaster relief, food aid, and military assistance. Despite the billions spent, however, many communities remain poor. The question is, “Why?”
Aid programs can harm more than they help. Poverty seems to increase rather than decrease. The poor are often blamed for program failures. They are judged to be lazy and irresponsible. Lack of ‘proper’ education is seen as a primary reason the poor remain poor. It becomes the responsibility of ‘more knowledgeable’ people to take care of communities incapable of taking care of themselves.
There are several prevalent myths regarding the poor. These myths have influenced public policy for hundreds of years. The most important myths include:
(1) The poor are lazy.
(2) The poor are drug addicts.
(3) The poor are uneducated.
(4) The poor are criminals.
(5) The poor will always be poor.
Current poverty reduction programs rely largely on these five myths. It seems little has changed over the last hundred years! The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 illustrates how these myths influence financial aid and poverty reduction programs.
One of the hardest hit areas during Hurricane Katrina was the Ninth Ward, located in New Orleans. For more information, check out this link: http://archive.oah.org/special-issues/katrina/Landphair.html
1870s Map of New Orleans. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org
Prior to 2005, the Ninth Ward had become a place of unique culture and community. By the late 1800s, over 17,000 people lived in the Ward. This was a neighborhood which encouraged collaboration and mutual aid. The geography of this area also served to separate and isolate the space from the rest of New Orleans. This isolation was increased in 1918, when the city constructed a new industrial canal. Many officials thought this canal would promote economic growth. The canal ran through the middle of the Ninth Ward, because officials saw the space as “uninhabited”. This canal created two separate spaces which were divided by class and race. Poor, mostly African-American families remained in the Lower Ninth Ward. Wealthier white families moved into St. Bernard’s Parish on the other side of the canal.
Canal dividing lower and upper Ninth Ward. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org
By 2003, the media listed the lower Ninth Ward as “The murder capital of the murder capital” in the U.S. The Ward was a “dangerous backwater pockmarked with blight where one’s life was always at risk”. The people who lived there were “underclass” and “unwed, live-off-the-dole welfare mothers”. In short, the residents of the lower Ninth Ward were lazy, drug-addicted criminals who lacked proper education or will to help themselves. The five poverty myths were in full play.
After Hurricane Katrina, many city and State officials discussed the future of the Ninth Ward. Col Terry Ebbert (Department of Homeland Security) said,
“There’s nothing out there that can be saved at all”.
The lower Ninth Ward was built on unstable flood plains, and officials discouraged rebuilding there. The wealthier St. Bernard suburbs were allowed to rebuild, even though they lived in the same flood plain, however. After the mayor announced that the cost of rebuilding would be the responsibility of residents, it was clear to many that race and poverty were primary variables in recovery efforts. Instead of being helped after the disaster, the lower Ninth Ward community was marginalized, segregated, and stigmatized. Many residents felt they were victims of discrimination based on race and class.
Even more importantly, the government transferred much of their power and responsibility for helping to private industry. Author Naomi Klein calls this phenomenon “Disaster Capitalism”. Klein feels that Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of the problems the poverty industry has created. In a Time Magazine interview, she explains that the government betrayed the poorest people of America. Government aid dollars remained unspent, and private industry was allowed to choose who they helped. Profits became the driving force behind disaster relief.
In New Orleans, people who could afford to pay for the ‘service’ were rescued first. The poor remained on roof-tops and in buildings with no food, water, or power. Residents who could afford to pay quickly recovered. People in the lower Ninth Ward still do not have adequate housing! Meanwhile, tax dollars dedicated to disaster relief remain unspent.
Banksy art in lower Ninth Ward. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org
Hurricane Katrina is one example of how poverty myths and the poverty industry undermine the success of current poverty reduction programs. Next week, I will take a closer look at the Poverty Industry, and how it is adversely affecting the global poor. Until then, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!
 Sanderson, S. 2005. Poverty and Conservation: The New Century’s “Peasant Question?” World Development. 33(2). 323-32.
As a colonised Nation, Canadian history often mirrors England’s. Canada’s economic development is very different from England’s, however. One difference is that the Canadian colonies were established as a way to provide resources to Europe. While Great Britain was developing global economic power through manufacturing, Canada provided needed raw materials to England, France, and even the United States. Canada’s role in outsourcing its natural resources has directly impacted First Nations communities. As a result, a new class of poverty was created in Canada – often called the “fourth world”.
Historically, Indigenous people were often regarded as barriers to accessing important resources and land. The Indian Act of 1876 was created in large part to remove First Nations from land needed for settlement and resource extraction. This Act created a Reserve system, managed by the Federal government, which contained and controlled Indigenous groups. In 1884, cultural practices, such as Potlatches, were banned under the Indian Act. In 1927, another amendment made it illegal for First Nations to hire lawyers or seek legal counsel. This came out of a concern that more Indigenous groups were using the courts to claim rights to contested land and resources. This treatment of First Nations is remarkably similar to early European policies of segregating ‘undesirable’ cultural groups, such as the gypsies, Jews, and Huguenots…
Assimilation became the buzz word for any policy regarding Canada’s newly emerging ‘fourth world’. Residential schools became a primary tool for ensuring complete assimilation of First Nations’ children. The schools were run collaboratively by churches and the government. In keeping with the terms of the Indian Act, the government saw these schools as the best way to integrate Indigenous people into Canadian society. Churches were invested in the project, so that Indigenous people would accept Christian teachings and turn away from ‘evil’ pagan practices. The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report has shown irrevocable harm to First Nations groups. Disease, death, abuse, and appalling injustices have marked the over 150 years these schools were open. Today, it is clear these schools are responsible for horrible injustices, extreme poverty, abuse, and even genocide!
At the end of World War II, many Canadians had witnessed horrifying injustices against minority people, including Jews and Japanese. The UN was an organisation created as a result of economic and social injustice, and many new policies were adopted in order to build economic capacity and reduce injustice. Despite these new efforts, however, Canadian First Nations remained a people who were ‘invisible’ to global poverty reduction efforts.
In the 1960s, it was clear that First Nations communities were experiencing greater poverty, infant mortality, and lack of education than the rest of Canada. To address this, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and John Chretien (Minister of Indian Affairs) attempted to pass a comprehensive policy which addressed First Nations communities in Canada. This policy would eliminate ‘Indian’ as a distinct legal status, and name First Nations individuals as “citizens with the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities as other Canadians.” This proposal was immediately rejected by First Nations leaders, who saw the policy as inherently racial – and a deliberate attempt to erase Indigenous cultures from Canada once and for all!
In 2007, the UN created the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). It is important to recognize that Canada was one of four countries who voted against this declaration in 2007. Representatives said that while they “supported the ‘spirit of the declaration, it contained elements that were ‘fundamentally incompatible with Canada’s constitutional framework’”. It was not until 2016 that Canada finally confirmed a commitment to this declaration.
Historical Canadian policies regarding First Nations communities and poverty reduction have failed. Assimilation, marginalisation, genocide, and Residential Schools, and Reserves have created a ‘fourth world’ marked by devastating poverty and profound social injustice. Today, many First Nations communities live in poverty conditions which are largely ignored or inadequately addressed by Canadians. Over 60% of First Nations children are living in poverty. Many communities lack adequate access to clean water. Mining and logging industries threaten access to food and important cultural spaces. Future poverty reduction efforts need to fully focus on redressing injustices which have occurred since the early 1800s.
Next week, I will discuss Canadian efforts in poverty reduction and International Development projects. Until then, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!
London was in political and economic turmoil in the late 1800s. Poverty was a major problem for Londoners, who often blamed the poor for disease, crime, and violence. Many people wrote about these conditions in the mid-1800s. One of these people was Henry Mayhew. Mayhew wrote London Labour and the London Poor in 1840 (http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/henry-mayhews-london-labour-and-the-london-poor). Mayhew used the stories of poor street performers, vendors, prostitutes, beggars, rat catchers and thieves to create data which challenged police reports and census data of the time.
“Beer Street and Gin Lane”. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org
Mayhew’s work profoundly influenced Charles Booth, who used many of Mayhew’s research techniques to create a series of maps and reports. His research laid the groundwork for the framework which new welfare policies would be based on. For a biography of Charles Booth, click on this link: http://booth.lse.ac.uk/static/a/2.html
Booth’s 17-year project was designed to address two things. First, he was concerned about the Socialist movement in England. Riots were a serious problem in London, and many believed the socialists were responsible. Finally, Booth did not believe the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) reports which said that 25% of Londoners were poor. Booth thought the SDF reports were deliberately inflated to encourage conflict.
Booth used Mayhew’s research methods to create a database and twelve maps which recorded 4 million people! In order to define poverty, Booth created a new ‘poverty line’. Anyone receiving less than 18 shillings per week was ‘poor’. Booth’s creation of a poverty line is still used in economic policy today.
Booth’s final report, Life and Labour of the People of London (1889), revealed three very important findings. First, Booth’s idea the SDF were deliberately inflating the numbers of poor people in London was wrong. Much to the government’s dismay, Booth’s findings showed that 30% of London was living in poverty.
Second, Booth demonstrated that drinking did not cause poverty, as many believed. The opposite was true – poverty resulted in excessive drinking. For perhaps the first time, crime, alcoholism and disease could be seen as a result of poverty!
Finally, Booth found that a large majority of the poor were aged. Booth began campaigning for the government to establish an old-age pension and to abolish the workhouses. The Old Age Pension Act was finally approved in 1908. Booth’s research, rather than creating a means to end the socialist movement in London, strengthened the power and objectives of the SDF for the future.
The maps of London which Booth created became very important to researchers. They provided information that showed poverty was not just as an economic issue, but a spatial one! Booth established seven class classifications for his maps. These classes ranged from the lowest class (vicious criminals) to the very wealthy. Each area of London was colour-coded to show the classes of people who lived there.
These maps are now digitized and geo-referenced. This means that they can be compared to current maps of London in order to track important changes over time! Maps can help people to better understand patterns of poverty in specific places. Once we understand these patterns, it is possible to develop policies which better solve poverty problems.
Booth map of Whitechapel. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org
In the 1800s, many people thought that the poor only lived in certain places, like along the Thames River docks. It was possible to avoid areas where the poor congregated. Booth’s findings showed that the poor tended to live in ‘undesirable’ areas, but also lived in the same places as the wealthy. One example of this is in the historic Whitechapel district. This was the area frequented by ‘Jack the Ripper’. This space has a long and volatile history. Today, evidence of pauper’s graves can be found alongside well-to-do businesses on ‘Petticoat Lane’ (Middlesex Street).
Petticoat Lane Market, 2006. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org
Unfortunately, mapping poverty in London has also caused harm. Spatial information was later used by Environmental Determinists, Eugenics societies, and colonial governments to institute ghettos, slums and segregation policies. Fully understanding the spatial implications of poverty allowed authorities to more efficiently remove the poor from desirable spaces and contain them in less desirable places. Rather than alleviate poverty, it became possible to plan urban areas which best controlled and policed the poor. Next week, I will examine the policies which emerged from the 1800s, and now form the foundation of the ‘poverty industry’. Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the invisible, visible!
“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Poverty means different things to different people. Policies which address poverty in our communities are based on how we measure and understand poverty. In North America, our policies and laws began in British and European history. By understanding historic perceptions of the poor, we can better understand our policies today. The way we see the poor in our own community is the way we will see the poor in other countries.
Tudor England was especially interested in the poverty problem. There were so many poor peasants that it was important to keep them happy and avoid unpleasant revolts. The government divided the poor into three groups: the “helpless poor”, the “able-bodied poor”, and “rogues and vagabonds”. Rogues and vagabonds were the most dangerous, since they were considered criminals who were most likely to overthrow the government. Laws were passed which allowed this group to be flogged and put to death if they were caught begging. Eventually, this third group extended to ‘undesirables’ like Gypsies, Jews, and even Huguenots (French Protestants).
The Poor Relief Act was established in 1662. This Act made local Parishes responsible for the poor living within their specific jurisdiction. Anyone who received charity from the church had to have documents which proved they lived in that Parish. If they could not prove they lived there, they were forced to leave, jailed, or killed. In short, this made the Church and not the government responsible for the poor. It also made it possible to keep ‘undesirables’ from settling in England.
In the early 1800s, people’s ideas about the poor shifted. Industrial growth was understood as the means to create wealthy nations. National wealth meant greater power and influence. Colonial control of places like Africa, South America, India and Asia became more important than ever. Welfare and care for the poor became an obstacle to achieving National wealth and power. People like Thomas Malthus (http://bit.ly/29zBmkI) made it clear that the poor were to blame for a country’s failure to grow economically.
Malthus opposed the poor laws of the time, which were established to provide food and money to people in poverty. He believed that providing food to the poor would only serve to increase the poor populations and that they would live in a “greater degree of misery and vice. Likewise, higher wages would only encourage the poor to have larger families, which would result in decreased National wealth. These were the ideas that led to the establishment of debtor’s prisons and workhouses. It was these ideas that Dickens decried in A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge delivers his famous line about poor houses and the poor…
The ‘misery of the poor’ soon extended to the polluted and dilapidated places the poor had to live in. These places became linked to disease and death. These were places of fear – where thieves, cut-throats and murderers stalked the streets. These were the dark alleyways frequented by “Jack the Ripper” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictional Mr. Hyde. Death, in the form of cholera, diphtheria, and scrofula became synonymous with poverty. The poor were shunned more than ever!
Despite these perceptions, established ideas of the poor being simply ‘lazy’, ‘criminals’, ‘vagrants’, ‘drunkards’, and ‘simple-minded’ became challenged by the late 1880s. The Industrial Revolution brought many changes to society. People who had previously enjoyed relative economic security were becoming unemployed. Perhaps there was more to the poverty problem than a lack of willingness to work and contribute to society…
Important events, such as the Lancashire Cotton Famine (http://bit.ly/29sLURB), a series of violent labour riots in the 1880s, and the growing power of Trade Unions for the working poor forced the authorities to acknowledge that poverty problem was more complex that previously understood. Lack of viable work, infrastructure, gender, access to legal assistance, and access to adequate health care also played a part in poverty. If Britain was to continue to grow as a global economic power, it became clear that policy changes were necessary.
Some of the policies that came out of this period of English history still shape International Development policies today. Policies focusing on ‘lifting people out of poverty’ and increasing the economic capacity of women mark many of today’s programs and projects in developing nations. Even more importantly, poverty was increasingly understood as institutional and spatial issue. An important contributor to these understandings is Charles Booth. Next week, I will discuss Booth’s research and mapping project in the late 1800s. Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the invisible, visible!