In early February, over 200 organizations and community leaders from across BC issued an open letter to BC political parties, calling on them to commit – prior to the May election –– to a comprehensive poverty reduction plan, with legislated targets and timelines. We were among the signatories.
The time for leadership is now. Five Canadian provinces either have such plans or are in the process of developing them, but so far, not BC. Yet by any measure, BC has the highest rate of poverty in Canada. BC has recorded the highest child poverty rate for five years running. Despite years of strong economic growth, over half a million British Columbians live in poverty, and homelessness has risen to unacceptable levels.
We all pay for poverty. Study after study links poverty with poorer health, higher justice system costs, more demands on social and community services, more stress on family members, and diminished school success.
As we head into a global economic downturn, poverty risks getting worse unless action is taken. A poverty reduction plan represents a wise stimulus in the current economic climate. It focuses on those who will be hardest hit by the recession, and it concentrates money in the hands of those who spend everything they have in our local communities.
An ambitious but realistic poverty reduction plan would:
- Reduce poverty by a third within four years, and by 75% within a decade;
- End street homelessness within two years, and end all homelessness within eight years (ensuring all homeless people can have good quality, appropriate housing);
- Eliminate deep poverty within two years (ensure no British Columbian falls more than 25% below the poverty line);
- Make the same substantial reductions in poverty among the most vulnerable to poverty — children, single mothers, single senior women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, recent immigrants, and people with disabilities, mental health issues and/or addictions.
We call on all political parties to commit to action in each of the following policy areas:
- Provide adequate and accessible income support for the non-employed.
- Improve the earnings and working conditions of those in the low-wage workforce.
- Improve food security for low-income individuals and families.
- Address homelessness and adopt a comprehensive affordable housing and supportive housing plan.
- Provide universal publicly-funded child care.
- Enhanced support for training and education for low-income people.
- Enhance community mental health and home support services, and expand integrated approaches to prevention and health promotion services.
There is nothing inevitable about poverty and homelessness in a society as wealthy as ours. Other jurisdictions that are setting clear targets and timelines are getting results. If we commit to a bold plan, a dramatic reduction in poverty and homelessness within a few short years is a perfectly achievable goal.
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Ted Bruce is President of the BC Public Health Association. Sherman Chan is Director of Settlement Services with MOSAIC. Ernie Crey is Senior Policy Advisor to the Sto:lo Tribal Council. Judy Darcy is the Secretary-Business Manager of the Hospital Employees Union. David Dranchuk is Coordinator for Societal Ministry with the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church. Seth Klein is the BC Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Michael McKnight is President and CEO of the United Way of the Lower Mainland. Patrice Pratt is the Chair of Vancity Credit Union. Kathryn Seely is Public Issues Manager with the BC &Yukon division of the Canadian Centre Society.
The Open Letter they signed can be found at www.bcpovertyreduction.ca, where individuals can also add their name to the call.