COLUMN: BC needs a plan to lift people out of poverty

Poverty is a reality in our communities, but there is something we can do to change that.

Poverty is a reality in our communities, but there is something we can do to change that. A poverty reduction plan is a real step to improve people’s lives and strengthen our economy. That’s good for everyone.

For the last 13 years British Columbia has had the highest overall rate of poverty in the country.

Over the last decade, it’s had the worst child poverty rate. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan, which has half the poverty rate of BC, has recently announced that they are going to take action to reduce poverty with a comprehensive plan. That leaves British Columbia as the only province in the country without a plan to lift people out of poverty.

On October 30, I put forward legislation to being a poverty reduction and economic inclusion plan in BC. But my New Democrat colleagues and I can’t pass it alone. The BC Liberal government needs to sign on.

A government plan is essential because poverty has negative consequences for families and for our society.

For children, living in poverty often means growing up in substandard housing, struggling to get enough healthy nutritious food, and all too often, being left out of activities that help them grow.

This impacts their ability to do well in school and reduces their opportunities as they grow into adulthood.

Many people living in poverty also struggle with poor health simply because they cannot get enough nutritious food.

Even with help from food banks, healthy eating is something that most people in poverty struggle to do. When you combine that with the daily stresses of trying to stretch dollars that simply aren’t there, the result is people get sick more often and need more health care.

That’s why poverty has been consistently linked to higher public health care costs. Combine that with increased costs to education and lost labour productivity, and it is no wonder that studies show poverty costs BC an estimated $9.2 billion each year.

The BC Liberal response to this situation is to say they care, but do nothing.

They tell people to just get a job. It sounds ideal, but then they not only fail to offer the training needed to get those jobs, they offer those jobs to foreign workers under exploitative conditions.

This isn’t right.

For others, a disability or mental illness prevents them from working. And then there is the fastest growing segment of people living in poverty – the working poor.

Low wages mean they struggle to afford basic costs of living. Jobs are most definitely not a simple solution in these cases.

By continuing poverty — creating policies, the BC Liberals have demonstrated they just can’t connect the dots.

For example, the BC Liberal government thinks it’s okay to take away the $750 a month in child support Roy McMurter sets aside for his daughters because they live with their disabled mother on about $1,000 a month.

The BC Liberals say they can’t afford to stop clawing back child support payments from BC’s poorest kids at the same time they pay $5,000 a month on car allowance for the man who stepped aside so that the Premier could run in an election.

If we had a poverty-reduction plan in place, with real targets and timelines, the BC Liberals would be forced to grapple with these issues. They would be forced to consider the evidence that taking children’s child support away isn’t just bad for the children involved, it’s bad for our whole province.

That’s why I’m hoping people will join together, say enough is enough and demand the BC Liberal government debate and pass my Poverty Reduction and Economic Inclusion Act.

It’s time we build a better BC for everyone.

 

— Michelle Mungall is the MLA for Nelson-Creston. Her column appears in the Nelson Star monthly.