Poverty has long weighed on Hugh Segal’s mind. For decades, the former senator has been a vocal champion for a guaranteed basic income to lift the country’s poorest out of the cycle of poverty. He credits his formative years, growing up in an immigrant family in Montreal’s working-class Plateau neighbourhood, for sowing the seeds of his advocacy.
“What bothers me the most about [poverty] is the amount of people whose lives are being wasted because they’re caught in a scramble of too many jobs, too little pay, insufficient resources to cover rent, food, transport, clothes,” he said, in an interview. “Their kids pay a huge price, and it produces all kinds of difficulties.”
Poverty doesn’t affect only low-income earners, he added. To illustrate his point, the former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney shared an anecdote about the cost of preventable illnesses to a public health-care system. He called it “the $1,007 sandwich and bowl of soup.”
The story goes that researchers at a Toronto hospital studying population health noticed a trend among some lower-income patients who would show up in the emergency room. The cases seemed to be a chronic illness, but after triage, staff believed what the patient would benefit most from was a bit of advice and a bowl of soup and a sandwich.
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