The Decline of Care is Becoming Endemic

  • National Newswatch

The headline in the Hill Times this week said it all:  MPs say Canadians feeling 'exasperation,' 'frustration' with pandemic, and Graves says national outlook 'unsurprisingly quite dark.' No shock there.  What the initial waves of the pandemic couldn't do, Omicron accomplished at lightning speed.  Canadians are exhausted, with little interest in anything, including politics, that doesn't affect them personally.  It's understandable and disheartening.As this country concentrates on the COVID 19 problems of the here and now, most advanced nations are being forced to deal with an issue that has been years, decades even, in the making.  Call it the “care decline.”As former Bank of Canada Governor, as well as previous Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney put it in his latest book Value(s), we have moved from a “market economy” to a “market society.” In the process, we lost our sense of purpose as to what government, the free market, and citizenship were supposed to collaborate around.  We've all been culpable in the transition, and now we understand our short-sightedness.  The rush for money and cheap products distracted us from the realities we should have been concentrating on: rising debt (public and private), climate change, the loss of meaningful work, increasing costs of post-secondary education, troubling levels of homelessness in every community, the endless cycle of poverty, failure of proper supports for small and medium-sized businesses, slipping of the middle-class, and the increasingly out of reach housing market.  Combined, such things were the staple of the prosperous years following the Second World War.All of these realities swirled about in constant fluctuations over recent decades but were largely ignored for the possibility of “growing the economy.” Now that the coronavirus has dominated for the last two years, those signs of social, democratic and economic short-sightedness have become troublingly apparent.  The elderly, poor, marginalized, food-insecure, social workers, and now, increasingly, the public health workers who have kept our health systems from collapsing under pandemic pressures are at risk.  And all those supposedly “care” countries of prosperity in the West have somehow permitted a world where the most vulnerable are now the most endangered.  We enabled these supports to decline, and in all our forced isolation, we now comprehend better the actual costs of our collective neglect.There have been reams of published reports over the years that spoke to the public disregard.  Having received little help or support, the systems lost their robustness, discouraging workers and administrators alike.  In care facilities, staff faced increasing precarity as multinational corporations made inroads into public health systems with keen eyes towards the bottom line.  Hospitals and medical facilities faced similar cutbacks, leaving doctors and support staff alike increasingly having to do more with less.Poverty and the ravages of mental illness grew in recent decades, despite the runaway success in the financial industry.  While governments focused on the markets and investments, they did so at the expense of the social welfare of communities.  Homelessness became impossible for cities to effectively address without heftier supports from senior levels of government, which rarely arrived in an efficient or timely fashion.  People needing help to get off social assistance spent endless hours doing the rounds seeking help and eventually giving up, falling back on community care that was already beyond capacity.  Governments, businesses and citizens alike watched as, over a period of time, society was slowly retreating from its most vulnerable.Though governments in general performed admirably in getting vaccines into citizens' arms, it is evident to all that response systems, in general, had not received the supports required in the runup to COVID.  Countries like Canada were left with woefully underfunded care systems whose inadequacy was revealed during the worldwide pandemic.  It was all made worse by the forced self-isolation and social distancing that left those already marginalized feeling more abandoned than ever.Across the board, in every prosperous nation, there is an urgent requirement to bring the fields of governments and capital together to re-establish public care as the focus of future efforts.  Refusing to do so will only result in further decline and more angry voters, effectively undermining the very stability that made those democracies successful.  New social capacities must be developed in partnership with municipalities to find new methods and funding for reversing the decline.Ending where we began, with Mark Carney's book Value(s), he asks the following question: “Does the narrowness of our vision, the poverty of our perspective, mean that we undervalue what matters to our collective wellbeing?” COVID has shown that we have and continue to do so.  Unless reversed, our politics will become increasingly irrelevant.  Those lost in politics will fail to realize that they have lost the game.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.