Throughout the year, the UN dedicates certain days to a particular theme. In 2008, to remind us that we share the same planet, the UN chose February 20 as the World Day of Social Justice. Its objective is to promote a fair distribution of income and better access to resources for all.
Many people are unaware that serious incidents of injustice occur on a regular basis. There are cases where people feel so trapped by unfair circumstances that they may contemplate suicide. Incidents like these remind us that a truly just world is far from being achieved. It is important to set aside February 20 as a day to commit to working for permanent social justice and equity in a globalized world.
The Charter of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and must act towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood. While this is true in theory, in practice it is far from being realized. Many people start life with less chance of success than others.
The function of the World Day of Social Justice is to push for improvements and solutions to correct injustices. With the growing gap between rich and poor, we are called to promote a fair distribution of income, better access to resources and equality for all. The obvious way to do this is to address current tax injustices. Justice through taxation is a means of improving social relations and eliminating dangerous inequalities. Although taxes are often seen as a way for governments to put their hands in the pockets of citizens, in reality, taxation is a way to establish justice. It promotes the redistribution of wealth and protects the dignity of people living in poverty.
The current tax systems in Canada and New Brunswick are unfair.
Federal and provincial governments have cut taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations so much over the past few decades that when all taxes are taken into account, the top 1% pay an overall tax rate lower than all other income groups, including the poorest 10%. hundred.
Achieving tax justice requires raising tax rates for high-income individuals and profitable corporations, while ensuring that low-income people receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
One way to address the problem of excessive accumulation of wealth by those who are already among the wealthiest is to introduce a new wealth tax. Decades of corporate tax cuts have cost the federal and provincial governments huge sums of money, but have failed to boost jobs, promote economic growth and reduce poverty.
In New Brunswick, the group of people most unjustly treated are those who are forced to depend on social assistance. The rate of assistance for those deemed employable is only $571 per month. Such people cannot afford a roof over their head as a single room costs from $400 and up. A person on social assistance cannot eat properly because nutritious food costs at least $250 a month. Thousands of New Brunswickers go to food banks and soup kitchens, buy second-hand clothes from clothing depots and go without basic necessities. Their fundamental rights are violated.
It is imperative to increase social assistance rates because the income of single recipients and their families does not reach the poverty line as defined by Statistics Canada. In New Brunswick, the poverty line for one person is $21,579 per year, for two people it is $30,518 and for four people it is $43,159. The Common Front for Social Justice recently asked the Minister of Social Development to increase rates for all individuals and households on social assistance by $100 per month in the 2022-2023 provincial budget. This one-time increase will be useful but insufficient to bring their income up to the poverty line.
Further generous increases will be needed over several years, until their income reaches the poverty line. More than 40 non-profit organizations supported the Common Front’s request for this $100 increase in an open letter to the Minister of Social Development. An increase in social assistance rates would reduce provincial health care costs, alleviate the homelessness crisis and restore dignity to people living in poverty.
Justice and dignity must also be a reality for low wages. The recent increase in the minimum wage in New Brunswick is a step in the right direction towards social justice. Currently, a person who works less than 35 hours a week at minimum wage for 52 weeks has an income below the poverty line. Many people are in this situation, including seasonal workers who work for minimum wage. Without respect for the rights of these people, they live in anguish about their future and their right to dignity is violated.
February 20 is the day designated to recognize and express gratitude to the many nonprofit organizations and their leaders who never miss an opportunity to organize for social justice. If justice reigned everywhere in the world, everyone would live in peace and harmony. Nelson Mandela said: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and to a decent life.
With the right determination, political leaders can create a fair and just society.
Auréa Cormier is secretary of the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society in Moncton.