The following observations of the Minister’s consultation on poverty reduction in Hamilton May 11, 2008 are offered by Maggie Hughes.
The meeting was announced on short notice for some of the poverty groups in Hamilton, so it was a scramble getting people organized to attend.
There was discussion about how the meeting was set up as invitation only and we feared the doors would be closed to the poor. A small gathering of protesters was formed in hopes that at least their signs would be read and the Minister would hear some of their message.
Minister Matthews actually joined the protesters, spoke with them directly, and assured them that they would get inside to participate. That she herself would allow them inside.
The room was set up into several tables and participants were told which table to sit at. At least I was. The aim was to have a good mix at all the tables which was a great idea, but the controlled seating also made sure that there were business members and Round Table Members at each table. When it came time to chose a moderator for each table, those that held power quickly took the mic.
Those that knew poverty, were essentially being shut out of the process again, even though they were in the room and at the table, they were unable to have their voice. Some told me they still felt shut out of the conversations… that what they wanted to have said, was not being said when it came time to sum up a response to the pre-chosen questions in the work book.
At my table, comments and concerns that were brought up didn’t actually get a voice, as the moderator with the power of the mic, was able to present their personal view, leaving out the key points from the balance of the table members.
After the session, many of those in poverty approached me to let me know that they too felt they were still being left out of the discussion. There was a way to rectify any omitted comments, in the actual handout itself, a section was left for personal thoughts. I hope that those written comments are given the same attention as Minister Matthews gave to the discussion.
The best thing I observed was that the entire room answered the first question with the same points. The clothing allowance needs to be returned in two lump sums, not dribbled back over months. The need for affordable education, and that grants and loans not be deducted from income. That families should not be penalized or cut back on income, if the child in the family tried to earn part time money to pay for their own education.
The slogan of gearing poverty focus on the children, must thereby also include the parents of that child in poverty. The minimum wage must be geared to the cost of living, and those on ODSP must be allowed to keep more of any small income they could earn to supplement their below poverty benefits. The common message, was to listen to the grass roots and those that lived in poverty more than those that worked with the poor. The real answers will come from the streets not the boardrooms.
The Round Table in Hamilton does exclude some voices from their meetings, as evidenced by the exclusion of the Beasley Neighbourhood association. Voices are still being hand picked by those in authority in Hamilton.