I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s novel Bring Up the Bodies. It tells the story of the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn through the eyes of Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell.
In March 1536, Cromwell proposed a new poor law, but the English Parliament did not pass it. Though this event took place almost 500 years ago, the following lines in Mantel’s novel are eerily familiar:
“It was too much for the Commons to digest, that rich men might have some duty to the poor…It is an outrage to the rich and enterprising, to suggest that they should pay an income tax, only to put bread in the mouths of the workshy. And if Secretary Cromwell argues that famine provokes criminality: well, are there not hangmen enough?”
Do Canadians believe rich men have some duty to the poor?
In 1989, MPs in our House of Commons voted unanimously to bring an end to child poverty in Canada by the new millennium.
Since then, the child poverty rate in B.C. has risen from 15 to 20 per cent. One in seven children in Canada – 1.2 million kids – live in poverty.
These are statistics from the 2014 Child Poverty Report Card produced by the B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.
It has been tracking child and family poverty rates for almost 20 years but the 2014 report warns readers the ability to compare and assess these trends are now hampered by our federal government’s elimination of best data sources including the long form census.
And during an interview in December 2013, our Industry Minister James Moore stated, “Obviously nobody wants kids to go to school hungry… but is that always the government’s job, to serve people their breakfast?”
If, like Cromwell, you believe “famine provokes criminality,” don’t worry.
Our current federal government plans to expand budgets for prisons by 27 per cent.
This despite research showing incarceration rates in the U.S. rose 700 per cent over a 40-year period with no corresponding drop in crime.
So, since Cromwell proposed his law, society still struggles with some of the same issues.
But we do have one great advantage over the poor of Cromwell’s England.
We are not helpless subjects of a mercurial king and his noblemen. We have the power to elect those who rule if we get out and vote.