The War on Poverty or the Weapon of Choice?

Musings on Our Crowdfunding Campaign

CrowdfundingThe 150-second challenge turned out to be only the start of the tough decisions in our crowdfunding campaign.  In 2.5 minutes or less, we needed to make a video that would introduce ourselves, explain our issue, convince others that it should be of concern to them and ask them to take action on behalf of the cause.

This challenge would be tough under the best of circumstances.  But it is harder when the purpose of the campaign involves a complex public issue.

As it turns out, we were trying to explain two important problems at the same time: the war on poverty and the weapon of choice in this tough battle.

The war on poverty involves rallying around the fact that welfare recipients − typically the poorest of the poor − live on incomes that are drastically low.  The Welfare Incomes report calculates these annual amounts and compares them to major poverty measures and income measures.  Both of these comparators give a sense of adequacy – or serious lack thereof.  Welfare incomes fall well below poverty rates in all parts of the country and are only a fraction of the average incomes of Canadians.

The data and evidence in Welfare Incomes that point to the huge gaps in adequacy comprise the weapon of choice.  This information helps us make the case for why we need not only to bolster the incomes of welfare recipients but also to fundamentally reform that program, which entails dismantling welfare and replacing it with stronger and more effective income security programs.

This crucial information was slated to be lost forever with the federal dismantling of the National Council of Welfare and all its work.  No government department would be taking up the slack.

So should we ask viewers to pool money to fight the war on poverty?  Or should we ask them to help rescue the words (and figures, tables, charts and graphs) that comprise its foremost weapon?

It may have been preferable to focus on the war on poverty.  It is easier to understand and rally people around this pressing need.  But we chose instead to highlight the #datarescue challenge with its more subtle message.

So why make this crowdfunding task more difficult than it already is?  Why take the risk of having our campaign confused with a serious computer malfunction (the more typical interpretation of our campaign hashtag)?

Because the prospective loss of Welfare Incomes is only the thin edge of the wedge.  There has been a steady decline in the number of diverse sources of national public data that help us understand poverty and trends in labour market participation, levels of earnings and income inequality.

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Caledon Institute is a social policy think tank

We are strong as a social policy community only to the extent that it is possible to make a clear, informed case for action on poverty and the reform of income security measures that can help fight poverty.  And we are strong as a nation only to the extent that we can make a cogent and articulate case for paying attention to the well-being of all citizens, especially those who live in poverty. We will be neither in the absence of solid and  trustworthy information.

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