Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season filled with peace and joy and that it continues on into 2016. For me, I enjoyed a bit of time with family and friends as we skied, tobogganed and shared in our communities’ festivities.
The holidays also remind us that not everyone is able to afford the basics. While poverty lives in every community all year round, the holidays have come to be a time when generosity is greatest and our thoughts most reflective on others. This holiday season I thought of the 6,000 children living in poverty who saw some change in the past year, but not enough.
The year started off well with the announcement that New Democrats, parents and advocacy groups’ work to end the child support clawback would end on Sept. 1, 2015. This poverty-creating policy had been taking $13 million away from 6,000 of BC’s poorest kids every year under the BC Liberals simply because their single parents received income assistance or disability.
Since September, children like Neveah and Gabriella, whom I got to know through their courageous parents, started keeping their child support. This money put nutritious food on the table and paid for school supplies. Rosie, now 15, paid for her own Star Wars ticket instead of asking a friend to pay. This holiday season, they all had more of what they needed because we changed a bad government policy.
That a small group of people made such an important change is wonderful to reflect upon and it warms my heart. But reality sets in too. For the most part, the 6,000 kids now getting their child support still live in poverty. That’s how bad child poverty is in British Columbia.
The big culprit for these thousands of children is that their families’ income assistance rates remain well below the most conservative poverty measures. Because their families can’t afford appropriate, safe and healthy housing while waitlists for BC Housing remain over two years long, many of their housing needs aren’t being met. Yet the BC Liberal government insists thousands of private market housing units are available for $375 per month despite current data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation saying otherwise. Food costs continue to rise too and electricity rates jump each year under Christy Clark.
These 6,000 children are some of most hard hit by increased costs and lack of affordability, but they aren’t the only ones. One in five BC children live in poverty. That’s 167,810 kids and there are thousands more with parents just barely over the poverty line.
Then there are thousands more with parents whose wages aren’t keeping pace with increases to MSP, auto insurance, childcare, activities like soccer, property taxes, bus passes and more. As a result, they are struggling more each year to keep up with the bills. Maybe this is your story. If not, it’s the story of someone you know.
That’s why we need a legislated poverty reduction plan. I’ve introduced my Poverty Reduction and Economic Inclusion Bill three times. Christy Clark responds by ignoring it and leaving BC as the only province without a real plan of action. This spring when I’m back in Victoria, I will introduce my bill again and continue to do so until it’s debated and passed.
We need a poverty reduction plan this year. Plans work. They work year round. They work for the 167,810 children who deserve better. They work for all of us.
Michelle Mungall is the MLA for Nelson-Creston. Her column appears monthly.