Equity – A Fair Shake

PETER CURRIER – Driving through India two years ago, my wife and I found ourselves among tens of millions of impoverished people. As we made our privileged way, I thought, “There, but for an accident of birth, go I.”

We went by women as poised as queens, carrying baskets of cow pies on their heads for cooking fires. Wiry young men schlepped huge slabs of marble. The toil of survival was everywhere. From the cool interior of our hired SUV, I wondered how many potential Bianca Andreescus, Noam Chomskys and Margaret Atwoods we were passing. And where would any of those iconic three be if they had had no access to tennis rackets or books. No career for any of them. No fame. No wealth.

More locally, Transition Town holds Equity as a basic value in all responses to the climate crisis. Equity is not equality. Equality means everybody starts with the same chance and the same resources; equality is, objectively speaking, pretty rare.

Equity, however, means that everybody has what they need to optimize their chances. That means a fair shake, a top-up process enabling everyone to achieve their full capabilities. Not everyone needs insulin for example, but in Peterborough, those who need it get it.

Equity is underpinned by functional caregiving, food security, good lodgings and health care, with enough money to fully pursue qualification for employment. There is strong local push to provide one of those essentials with BIG – a Basic Income Guarantee. Since 2015, the Basic Income Peterborough Network of community members has been advocating BIG. Contact: basicincome@nourishproject.ca.

Providing those underpinnings society-wide means sharing the wealth – socialism of the kind that many on the right find unacceptable. Compelling studies show, however, that prosperity disparity serves no one, and the reasons are often intricate. But at root, huge resource gaps often leave the rich guarded, gated and sometimes even guilty, and the less fortunate resentful and hostile. So the happiest societies are those in which people share good fortune and a strong sense of community.

In Peterborough, homelessness is perhaps the most visible equity deficit. It recently led local residents Ken Neale and Shelagh Gutsche to explore local resources for addressing it. “The main causes are not related to laziness or a conscious choice to live on the street,” Ken affirms. So he and Shelagh began looking at what they could do. On a macro level, solutions are clear if not always easy or politically achievable. For starters, we need a cross-government, hard-line budget for substantial, well integrated community housing with built-in support services for those who most need them.
Ken and Shelagh wanted a no-overhead contribution, so they went street-level and connected with Bill Smith, the Outreach Case Manager for Peterborough Social Services. Bill’s role is hands-on support, homelessness assessment, and linking at-risk people with essential resources. Shelagh and Ken took the most direct funding route they could find: helping Bill with basic human connection. People on the street are understandably distrustful of well-resourced people in positions of authority, so money for a sandwich, a

coffee, or gift card all help Bill forge meaningful hands-on, grassroots connections.
Interaction Institute for Social Change.

As background, Ken’s research yielded the following perceptive reports:
Report on homelessness: https://www.peterborough.ca/en/city-services/resources/Documents/Social-Services/ICountPTBOReport-Accessible.pdf

10-year plan: https://www.peterborough.ca/en/city-hall/resources/Documents/10-year-Housing-and-Homelessness-Plan-2014-2024.pdf.

The chorus of demand for equity in Peterborough has many voices, some gone hoarse for not being heard. One of the many being proudly raised, however, is that of The River Magazine. The last word goes to them: “The River Magazine gives people living on a low income a publication to showcase their writing, art and ideas. Imagine someone living on a low income being PAID for their creative work!”

Imagine further that there is unity in all areas in Peterborough, a sense of communal solidarity which allows all to be self-realized. If that means increasing taxes for the well off, I say, “Raise ’em.”