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BC Election Blog: Increasing Income Inequality, a Major Public Health and Societal Problem

Increasing Income Inequality, a Major Public Health and Societal Problem:

 What are the trends, why is this happening and what can be done?

By: John Miller

 

Income inequality is increasing steadily in Canada as it is in most developing countries. While poverty levels persist at unacceptably high rates the very wealthy are taking an ever bigger share of incomes so that wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a very small percentage of the population at the top of the socioeconomic (SE) hierarchy.

This increasing inequality in income and wealth is having profound effects on the economy, the environment, the effective functioning of democracy and most importantly on population health.

The effects on the economy are several: first, as wealth is increasingly concentrated among the already very wealthy who have more money than they can spend, there is less consumption of market products and a slowing of economic growth; second, there is a reduction of economic mobility – that is the opportunity in life to move up the SE ladder and achieve a higher standard of living (and health).

The effects on democracy are very important to consider when thinking about how to make the changes needed to reverse the trend of increasing SE inequity. Money is power, so those with plenty of resources can heavily influence governmental and corporate policies in their favour so that they keep and enhance their wealth. Hence we slowly see a well-functioning democracy and market economy replaced by a plutocracy/oligarchy. In recent times this has resulted in the widespread implementation of so-called ‘neoliberal’ economic policies that are contributing to increasing inequality (more discussion below).

The environment also suffers from the differential political power stemming from an increasingly inequitable distribution of wealth. As governments deregulate and corporations pursue ever increasing profits, natural resources are depleted and pollution (including greenhouse gases and therefore global warming) increases.

And SE inequality has huge effects on population health. Statistics Canada estimates that income inequality accounts for 40,000 premature deaths per year in Canada. In the US where income inequality is considerably worse than in Canada, the life expectancy of the white, non-Hispanic middle class is dropping for the first time after most of a century of steady increases. The causes of death are often the ‘diseases of despair’ (suicide, opioid overdoses, alcohol, tobacco, violence).

And health inequalities are on the rise in Canada with respect to unhealthy lifestyles. The rates of smoking tobacco, poor diets, lack of physical activity, stress and obesity are becoming ever higher among those of low SE status.

And we see the consequences on a daily basis: more precarious employment at below poverty levels, unaffordable housing, increasing numbers of homeless people sleeping on our sidewalks, epidemics of opioid overdose deaths across the province and the country.

The reasons for these alarming changes in our society are now well known. They include (among others):

  • The changing economy: the economy has shifted from one driven by resource extraction and manufacturing, retailing and services, to one dominated by financialization and IT. And in the financial sector (banks, insurance, investment) and IT (software, hardware, etc.) the remuneration for top executives has skyrocketed compared to entry level employees or other sectors.
  • Automation, artificial intelligence and robotization are eliminating many low –skill jobs.
  • Offshoring: many companies, pursuing better profits, have moved manufacturing jobs to China, Mexico and other countries with more ‘attractive’ tax and labour policies.
  • The acceptance by many politicians, policy makers and the public of a ‘Neoliberal’ ideology: this is an ideology advanced notably by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek in the US, and others including a number of well-funded ‘think tanks’ and implemented by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and some of their successors (including the current Liberal government in BC). Neoliberalism promotes the notion of Adam Smith’s economic ‘invisible hand’: a free (liberal) market where a well- informed public is free to make rational choices as to how they spend their money on products and services so that the economy will flourish and grow, wealth will be created and theoretically ‘trickle down’ to even the poorest so that poverty will not exist and there will be an equitable sharing of overall wealth. This neoliberal ideology promotes smaller (more business friendly) government, lower personal and corporate taxes, deregulation, balanced budgets, fewer public services and privatization of services such as education, health care, prisons, libraries, garbage collection, etc. It is an ideology that has now been shown empirically to be ineffective and unfair. And economists such as Thomas Piketty have shown that an unrestrained free market economy will inevitably lead to an ever increasing concentration of wealth among the elite.

Action is now needed to reverse this unhealthy development in our society. Persistent poverty, precarious work and decreased SE mobility is causing widespread unhappiness, hopelessness, stress and despair, a lack of social cohesion, and worse health and increased healthcare and other societal costs. It is also considered by many analysts to lead to such populist political outcomes as the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. When we also consider depletion of resources and environmental pollution, unless appropriate action is taken now, this unsustainable situation will lead to an ever worsening downward spiral.

So what can be done? There are two broad approaches to this problem;

A long term strategy is a (slow) movement to transform the business world to move away from a primary focus on ‘shareholder value’ and increased return on investments (i.e. profits) and toward a broader focus on social value and corporate social responsibility. There are many such companies that have various forms of employee ownership, cooperatives, profit sharing, revenue sharing and so forth.  These should be encouraged and policies and incentives should be enhanced to speed up this transformation. But this will be a slow process so we must look to more immediate solutions.

 

Of most relevance to the current election in BC, there is a need for government policies that will create a dynamic economy while at the same time addressing poverty and the unhealthy concentration of wealth at the top of the SE hierarchy. This will require policies that redistribute wealth from the top to the bottom and middle rungs of our society. This can be done by what economists call ‘taxes and transfers’.

A progressive policy agenda for a new BC government could include:

1. Taxes: several policies should be considered:

  • Making income tax more progressive by increasing the top marginal rates (particularly on extreme cases of executive compensation/bonuses) and decreasing rates for middle and low incomes
  • Regulating stock buy-backs
  • Closing loopholes such as tax breaks on capital gains, dividends, income splitting
  • Wealth and inheritance taxes
  • Increased taxes on socially harmful products: alcohol, tobacco, sugar, fossil fuels (and carbon more generally), pollution

2. Government transfers and services:

  • Improved access to early childhood care and development (ECD)
    1. 10$/day daycare
    2. Increased ECD capacity
  • An enhanced earned income tax benefit
  • Improved benefits for the poor : increased welfare, unemployment and disability rates (possibly a guaranteed annual income such as being tested in Ontario)
  • A commitment to reducing poverty through a formal poverty reduction strategy ( BC has the highest childhood poverty rates while being the only jurisdiction in Canada not to have a poverty reduction strategy)
  • A formal homelessness strategy
  • Improved public education
  • Improved healthcare services
  • Infrastructure development: public transit, renewable energy, power grid, social housing, recreation facilities, communications, internet access.
  • Sustainable environmental policies

3. Employment policies

  • Minimum wage $15/h
  • Incentivize a Living wage

 

Other jurisdictions, notably some of the Nordic countries, have such progressive policies and consequently have healthier populations.  By electing a government in BC that will implement such a policy agenda we can hope to return to a more equitable, compassionate, happy, dynamic society that will reduce health inequities and ensure sustainable health and wealth for generations to come.

UBC Faculty of Education Summer 2017 Teacher Programs: Home Economics – Human Ecology & Everyday Learning

University of British Columbia

Faculty of Education

2017 Programs for Teachers

Focus on Home Economics & Human Ecology

http://pdce.educ.ubc.ca/Summer2017

SUMMER INSTITUTES

UBC Faculty of Education is offering a number summer institutes with a focus on Home Economics – Human Ecology & Everyday Learning. These professional programs are designed for teachers to build up expertise and to address the changes in the renewed BC curriculum.

 

CURRICULUM DESIGN & EVALUATION IN HOME ECONOMICS

Practical & Theoretical Issues

July 4-7 @ Kelowna | EDCP 362B 96A

pdce.educ.ubc.ca/2017HomeEc

The New BC Provincial Curriculum for Food Studies, Textiles, and Family Studies offers the opportunity for teachers to review and refresh their teaching. The course will help teachers to consider the new curriculum in detail and to identify the areas where Home Economics is located. Teachers will have opportunity to consider the ways that their teaching can meet the needs of their students within context of the model ­ know, do and understand and create opportunities to address curricular competencies. This course will use a lens of inquiry to explore the curriculum and how it can be applied. Participants will leave this course with scopes and sequences for each curriculum developed throughout the course in partnership with class members.

 

 

ECOLOGY OF FOOD STUDIES
Using Imaginative Ecological Education as a framework

July 10-14 @ Victoria | EDCP 495B 96A or non-credit

pdce.educ.ubc.ca/FoodStudies

Food is one of our most basic needs, an infinite repository for learning and a powerful vehicle for building relationships. Yet classroom learning and teaching with food is a complex endeavour. This course will help teachers untangle learning intentions and logistics, design engaging learning experiences, access resources, stretch budgets and create meaningful assessment while considering 21st century learning principles. This course will use Imaginative Ecological Education as a framework to inform hands-on teaching and learning in the classroom and community. Students can expect to work collaboratively and taste the fruits of their labour too!

 

 

AGRICULTURE IN THE CLASSROOM
Integrating agricultural literacy and sustainability into classrooms

July 17-21 @ Abbotsford | EDCP 329 96A or non-credit

pdce.educ.ubc.ca/Agriculture

Food is often taken for granted. Students and society often have limited understanding of the sources, processes, and issues related to food production. The British Columbia Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation has devoted itself to providing teachers with useful resources to help them integrate important concepts related to food, the agriculture industry and environmental sustainability into their classrooms. This course examines best practices in implementation, such as pedagogies of engagement, interdisciplinary/integrative studies, and outdoor studies. Through active participation, field trips, guest speakers, and video presentations, participants will expand their knowledge of agriculture and food concepts and issues and reflect on their own values and orientations.

 

 

CRITICAL INQUIRY IN HEALTH EDUCATION
Health education in the context of physical education

July 24 ­ August 11 @ UBC Vancouver | EDCP 327A 96A

pdce.educ.ubc.ca/HealthEd

This course examines the nature and practice of health education in the context of physical education. Critical inquiry in health education aims to provide educators with critical perspectives of health, illness and disease. Premised on the World Health Organization¹s definition of health, this course moves beyond individual-focused behavior modification approaches to health and wellbeing, positioning health as a complex social, cultural and biological issue. In particular, issues, such as gender and gender expression, sexuality, social class, race and ethnicity, and age will figure prominently into theoretical and practical oriented approaches to health education.

 

 

Visit pdce.educ.ubc.ca/Summer2017 to discover other summer programs.

Closing the Gap Conference – Livestream option available

It’s last call for the second annual Closing the Gap conference in Ottawa, this Saturday! If you haven’t got your ticket yet, there’s still a handful left — contact us directly if cost is a factor, and we’ll work something out for you.

Not able to make it to the capital? We’ve got you covered there too. Register now for the free livestream, and watch everything as it happens! (Select the Livestream option under “tickets”). Upstream thinkers across Canada are hosting “viewing parties” to watch the livestream in style — if you can’t find one in your city, it’s not to late to host one!

Tweet your comments and questions live during the event and help us #CloseTheGap!

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Press Advisory – Future of Public Health in BC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 3rd , 2017

FUTURE OF PUBLIC HEALTH IN BC

BRITISH COLUMBIA – The Public Health Association of BC is non-partisan, voluntary, non-profit, member driven organization that provides leadership to promote health, well-being and social equity. From a public health perspective, social, economic, and environmental conditions should promote optimal health, and all citizens have a right to opportunities for success and prosperity.

PHABC has partnered with PlaceSpeak a digital platform whose mission is to facilitate legitimate and defensible online citizen engagement processes by connecting the digital identity of participants to their physical location.

The coming Provincial election is an opportunity for general public and public health professionals in BC to advocate for policies that will improve the health of the population. Click here to link to PlaceSpeak.

PHABC is interested in speaking with all British Columbians about their interest in the future of healthy public policy, public health services and ensuring that we have conditions that support health for all.

For more information about PHABC’s activities or to find out more about #InvestInPublicHealth contact:

Shannon Turner

PHABC Executive Director

execdir@phabc.org

(250)595-8422

@pha_bc

 

 

The Future of Public Health in BC – join the dialogue!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 3rd , 2017

FUTURE OF PUBLIC HEALTH IN BC

BRITISH COLUMBIA – The Public Health Association of BC is non-partisan, voluntary, non-profit, member driven organization that provides leadership to promote health, well-being and social equity. From a public health perspective, social, economic, and environmental conditions should promote optimal health, and all citizens have a right to opportunities for success and prosperity.

PHABC has partnered with PlaceSpeak a digital platform whose mission is to facilitate legitimate and defensible online citizen engagement processes by connecting the digital identity of participants to their physical location.

The coming Provincial election is an opportunity for general public and public health professionals in BC to advocate for policies that will improve the health of the population. Click here to link to PlaceSpeak.

PHABC is interested in speaking with all British Columbians about their interest in the future of healthy public policy, public health services and ensuring that we have conditions that support health for all.

For more information about PHABC’s activities or to find out more about #InvestInPublicHealth contact:

Shannon Turner

PHABC Executive Director

execdir@phabc.org

(250)595-8422

@pha_bc