By Surjit Atwal. Social justice and a strong economy go hand in hand. Good social programs can’t happen unless there is enough money to support them, and the only way to get enough money to support them properly is to have a strong economy.
In a strong economy there is money to share. We have money to do things we would like to be able to do, including being generous to others.
I believe that three things are most important to building a strong economy. Supporting business is important, because we do need business. But business is only one slice, not the whole pie.
The first important thing is to avoid deficits. Any time a government runs a deficit, then the money that comes in to government coffers must first of all go to paying off the deficit, and that is money that is not available for social programs at all.
The second important thing is to have a low unemployment rate. When more people are working, more is getting done. More goods are being made and more services are being offered. More people can get their needs met and more opportunities can be created.
The third important thing is for more people to have satisfying work and be able to earn enough to have choices in how they spend their money. When they have choices, they feel better about themselves, they have more independence, and they can contribute more to society as a whole.
I believe work is important not just to support businesses and the economy, but to give people more independence and more ability to participate in society in more ways.
As a disabled person, I know how great it is to receive a pay cheque instead of a disability payment each month. When I get a disability cheque, I have to worry about how best to manage it. I have to ration myself for each thing I spend it on. When I have a pay cheque, I have more independence because it is my own money.
I know that it is not easy to reduce unemployment and to find satisfying work. I know that not everyone who is disabled can work. My cousin, who has cerebral palsy, has a much worse case than I do and cannot be independent at all. He needs full-time care.
I also know what it is like to have a job but get no satisfaction from it. Before I went to university, I worked for several years in an insurance agency. It was a job that paid well but it was not the right job for my skills or interests. Going to university was an important step in discovering where my talents are.
I know how lucky I am to have the job I have now, a job I enjoy so much. I have frends from university who graduated when I did, with the same degree, who have not yet been able to find any work.
And that is part of my reason for supporting a strong economy. The better the economy, the more workers and the more different types of workers we can employ. We can begin to build a better life for ourselves and our children. When I look at my parents’ life I see a 40-year work in progress, doing exactly that. My father wanted his children to have opportunities he did not have. Starting poor in Canada and doing farm work, he was able to work his way up to pay for his children’s education and then see them succeed in careers which would give them a chance to contribute to society. One of my sisters is a doctor, and I am working in MLA Darryl Plecas’s office to do community outreach.
It was very important to my parents that we all contribute to society. They raised us to believe that we should give, not just take. So for me, a strong economy is not about putting money in our pockets but about having money to help one another. We need charities and other non-profit organizations, as well as families and friends, to take care of the disabled, teach the children, help anyone who is mentally ill, assist the seniors, and support the dying, because doing so is a strong indicator that we are a society that values humanity, values each of its people, and supports human rights.
Surjit Atwal is a graduate of the University of the Fraser Valley and holds a BA in Political Science. He is currently the Community Outreach Coordinator for the office of Provincial MLA Darryl Plecas. His columns appear regularly on Abbotsford Today