On October 22, the Government of Saskatchewan announced in their Throne Speech that it would commit to the development of a poverty reduction strategy, making British Columbia the very last province in Canada without a plan to tackle poverty.
This despite the fact BC has the highest or second-highest poverty rate in the country, depending on the poverty measure. Notably, the Saskatchewan decision was made by the Conservative government of Brad Wall, highlighting this should not be a partisan issue.
How can the BC government ignore the mounting evidence?
First Call released last week its 2014 Child Poverty Report Card, revealing that one in five children in BC still live in poverty. That’s 169,420 poor children, enough to fill the Rogers Arena about nine times.
BC also has the highest inequality in Canada, according to Haves and Have-Nots: Deep and persistent wealth inequality in Canada from the Broadbent Institute. The wealthiest 10 per cent own over half the wealth in BC while the bottom 50 per cent have only three per cent of the wealth, with many of the poorest facing huge amounts of debt.
The latest report from Food Banks Canada, HungerCount 2014, shows almost 100,000 people visited a food bank in BC in a typical month this year, and close to a third were children. That’s a 25-per-cent increase since before the financial crisis of 2008, and almost four per cent higher than 2013.
This is not surprising given that food costing in BC 2013 from the Provincial Health Services Authority shows the average monthly cost of a nutritious food basket for a family of four is $914, an increase of almost $50 since 2011.
Recognizing that food banks are a necessary crisis measure but don’t tackle the real problems head-on, Food Banks Canada recommends strong, comprehensive government policies to address poverty and hunger, and “significantly reduce the need for food banks.”
In The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 from the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, Vancouver has one of the highest rates of severe housing need in Canada, and a growing number of homeless people from the latest homelessness count.
The implications of this are shocking. Megaphone Magazine’s recent report, Dying on the Streets: Homeless deaths in British Columbia, highlights that “the median age of death for a homeless person is between 40 and 49. This is almost half the life expectancy for the average British Columbian, which is 82.65 years.”
In response to the crisis of homelessness, the BC government has recently launched its Homelessness Prevention Program, which expands rent supplements to four at-risk groups but does nothing to provide more affordable housing.
The Burden of Poverty: A snapshot of poverty across Canada from Citizens for Public Justice highlights that BC has the highest local poverty levels in Canada, with Prince Rupert and Richmond facing devastating poverty rates of about 23 per cent.
Comparing welfare income with the poverty line, Welfare in Canada 2013 from the Caledon Institute, found a single “employable” person on welfare in BC receives just under 40 per cent of the poverty line, leaving a poverty gap of almost $12,000. Welfare in BC is deeply inadequate at $610 per month for a single person and has been frozen for seven years.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, BC’s Representative for Children and Youth, chastises the government for failing to act on her recommendation for a “provincial strategy and action to reduce child poverty” in Not Fully Invested: A Follow-up Report on the Representative’s Past Recommendations to Help Vulnerable Children in BC, which was released in early October.
The list of research reports goes on but this is a problem of more than numbers and statistics; it is children and seniors, people with disabilities and recent immigrants, queer youth and single mothers, not being able to make ends meet and going hungry in one of the richest provinces in Canada.
It’s time for a better BC, one that works for all of us, whether rich or poor. Michelle Mungall, MLA for Nelson-Creston, recently tabled a Poverty Reduction and Economic Inclusion Act again. Since then, thousands of people have urged the government to act and members of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition delivered those letters to Premier Christy Clark this week.
The select standing committee on finance and government services recently released its report from provincewide public consultations on the next provincial budget, and this bi-party committee again recommended to the Legislative Assembly that the provincial government “introduce a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.”
When will the government listen? The evidence is clear: we need a poverty reduction plan.
Please email the premier and urge her to take action at http://bcpovertyreduction.ca/email-the-premier
Trish Garner is the community organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.