featured Poverty

What if we trusted poor people to make their own decisions?

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When you live in poverty, one of the most valuable gifts you can receive is the gift of self-determination. 

It is helpful, of course, to get food or clothing, but each person has unique needs. Often the clothing offered does not fit or suit the conditions a person experiences. The food  received may not be suitable for their dietary conditions or living arrangements.

Gift cards are often seen as a compromise to this, allowing some level of choice on the part of the recipient while still maintaining control over where it is spent. Grocery gift cards also cannot cover prescriptions, which are often expensive especially for those who don’t qualify for drug coverage. 

There is a common adage that “beggars can’t be choosers” and that’s what charity is often based on. Of course, folks in need are always grateful for any help we can get. But, does being in need mean we should not have the right to make our own decisions? 

We know what we need. We know where it is best for us to shop, what we’re comfortable wearing and what we need to eat. Each human deserves the dignity of making their own choices. Poor people should not have to wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting clothing or eat foods they dislike. Our hands should not be slapped back when we ask for the same dignity as a person with a sufficient income.

From an economic perspective, how much is this gatekeeping of poor people’s daily choices costing us? By giving people money directly, we also eliminate the need for some of the administration of resource distribution. There is no need to pay people to make decisions on behalf of other capable adults. Poor people are not children. We do not require this level of guardianship. 

It’s important to note that many people are living in poverty because of sensory conditions they have or because of trauma they experienced. Many people have illnesses as a result of being abused, neglected or otherwise harmed and not being able to make their own choices. It can be re-traumatizing to have certain aspects of one’s life controlled by an outside party – whether that be the government or a well-meaning non-profit organization. 

The eventual solution is some sort of universal basic income, or a guaranteed minimum income. Until that time, if you can afford it, please consider supporting a person in poverty directly and give them the gift of self-determination.

With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.

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