WE ARE ALL LIVING IN A FEARSOME “DISCO MOMENT.” Our personal playlist is short. It has just two songs: the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” and Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive.”
The imperative of self-preservation consumes us. And so we are moved to do good to others. Not only because there is a moral obligation to “do the right thing” but because now there is an implacable practical imperative to “do the smart thing.” Because doing the smart thing is what is necessary to improve our personal chances of stayin’ alive.
Does our motive matter? Not right now. It will matter. But not right now.
Put first things first
Right now it’s time to put first things first. It’s time to do whatever we need to do to stay whole and rise up as one to defeat the coronavirus. We know we cannot do that if we do not meet the injustices of income inequality head on. Even bankers and big business know it.
The bald truth is: people who cannot afford to take all the measures necessary to stop the spread of the virus become our literal mortal enemies. In order to protect ourselves, we have to protect them.
This may very well be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons—but it hardly matters. When we do all that we now must do, it will become one of the largest mass efforts to deliver practical help to people ever undertaken by any nation in human history. And it will smash through the idea that doing the right thing is beyond our financial capabilities or moral desires.
It will do us good to do us good.
Thus, what we must do right now, is to liberate people from the constrictions of income inequality, so they can fully join with us to defeat this virus. In order to do that we must:
Put more cash into people’s hands.
- Most families wont get enough to cover basic costs of rent/mortgage, utilities, and food. The $2000 a month from the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) wont do it. And the $2,300 max from EI wont either.
- Deferring mortgage payments for six months only puts off the inevitable.
- Renters need realistic relief from the burden of rents high enough to suck up all the benefits from CERB or EI.
Send money today.
The cheque is in the mail is not good enough. We all want to eat every day. The rent comes due every month. Bills don’t wait to pile up until the virus goes away. Wait’ll next week won’t cut it. We need money sooner, not later. Much, much sooner.
Stop pointing fingers.
Self-isolation is a privilege—a privilege low-income, part-time, and precarious workers simply can’t afford. They have no choice but to keep working to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. We should not shame them for it. The blame and anger should be directed at employers and the government for failing them before the pandemic, and failing them again now.
Recognize who was always ‘essential’.
- Grocery workers are suddenly our new heroes. Who knew?! We all should have. We should never have taken them for granted, or any of the workers we call “low-skilled.” Cleaners, taxi and ride- hailing or ride-sharing drivers, delivery drivers, bus drivers, warehouse/order fulfillment workers, food and liquor industry workers, garbage and recycling collection workers, and child care workers are now demonstrating just how critical they are.
- We need to remember that truth once we are free of the virus and reward them with laws to extend basic labour rights to them all and make it easier for them to protect themselves with unions.
Resist the urge to stockpile.
Buying in bulk makes sense when you’re locked down at home. But panic buying (stockpiling) clears the shelves of everything. This isn’t fair to low-income folks who can’t afford to shop for essentials in advance—particularly those with disabilities. Worse still, once everything is bought up there will be nothing left for food banks to buy to restock their shelves.
Bridge the digital divide.
Most of us now live in a digital universe—but not all of us. Many, many seniors, low-income and rural folks just do not have the skills, money or access it takes to live there. This was never good—but now it can be dangerous. Without internet access all the necessary information and actions we all need now will not get through to everyone. We must do all we can to fix this asap.
Make Medicare available to all.
Our Medicare does not cover everyone. The medically uninsured include newly landed permanent residents, some temporary foreign workers, some international students, and undocumented residents. This was never fair. It is folly now. If there was ever a time to live up to our desire to make our Medicare available to all, it’s now.
Make more room for the homeless.
It is estimated that there are 35,000 homeless people in Canada. The only refuge they have is packed into shelters. Social distancing is as far out of reach as the stars. Conditions in the shelters were never good. Continuing budget cuts left the shelters with less support, while pushing more people into homelessness. The pandemic drives even deeper. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has put out an urgent call for more emergency shelters to make physical distancing more possible.
More support for community service workers.
- Community service workers are often forgotten. They are the “caring helpers” we don’t see on the frontlines. They work in women’s shelters, mental health support, homeless shelters and housing support, addiction services, and family services—helping all those who so often “fall between the cracks.” They are always overworked, their services perpetually underfunded. The pressure of the cornavirus will only make things worse.
- Some governments are stepping in to provide increased assistance for cities and agencies working with vulnerable communities. Unfortunately these additional funds may simply not be enough for a system that is critically underfunded, and now faced with an even greater and more urgent demand.
Stop the spread of income inequality.
We know who the most vulnerable are. They are the ones likely to be in precarious jobs or face barriers to fully participating in the workforce: Indigenous people, members of LGBTQI2S communities, immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, people of colour—more often than not they are women. We must not let the COVID-19 virus open them to even more inequality.
Do the right thing
The moral and practical reasons to pay workers living wages and full benefits has never been clearer.
The pandemic should compel us to do what we should’ve been doing all along—namely, providing ourselves with endless opportunities to build rewarding and socially useful lives.
We need to spend money as it was spent during the 1930’s Depression, with ambitious government programs that put money in people’s wallets and helped make better times a real possibility.
No one cares about a government deficit anymore. It would be irresponsible not to go into debt during the pandemic. We should think big, and spend money in ways that will help us all to not only weather this storm, but that will also open clear and broad pathways to better and brighter futures for us all when all of this is past.
An April 7, 2020 paper by NUPGE titled COVID-19 and Income Inequality sets out in complete and meticulous detail the research and data that is the foundation for the positions taken in this article. READ IT HERE.
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