Sunday, Oct.16, 2016 

 

POV News

If They Were Listening

BC has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada with no reduction plan in sight

Trish Garner, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition

 

f the government were listening to British Columbians, they would have heard that families are struggling to make ends meet with rising housing costs, childcare fees, MSP premiums, hydro rates, and food costs. The cry of un-affordability is thick in the air, and itís the symptom of a very broken social safety net taken from under our feet.

They would have heard that over 1,000 people in the highest ever homeless count in Vancouver this year are new to homelessness. Tent cities throughout the province are signs of a housing crisis in all communities in BC. Affordable housing is out of reach to so many.

But the government hasnít listened for years.

Every fall, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services holds province-wide public consultations on what people think should be included in the next provincial budget. And every fall, community groups of every stripe dutifully present or write to the committee. But this year, we wonít be participating.

Not because we donít need a provincial poverty reduction plan any more. Far from it. Rather, our reluctance comes from the fact that a chorus of voices has been making this call and it continues to fall on deaf ears Ė not on the part of the committee, but rather the government.

In fact, the bi-partisan committee has recommended a provincial poverty reduction plan for the last three years. And the Union of BC Municipalities has unanimously passed resolutions in support of this call since 2009, expressing a strong collective call from local governments for provincial action.

As Einstein said, ďthe definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.Ē So letís shake it up this year.

If the government were listening, they would have heard that people with disabilities really need their bus passes. Faced with an untenable choice, giving up the bus pass for a little more to buy food becomes the only option, and cuts off people with disabilities from community life.

They would have heard that people participating in the upcoming Welfare Food Challenge will live on only $18 for food for the week because the average rent of a room in the Downtown Eastside with no bathroom or kitchen is now over $500, and the welfare rate of $610 has not been increased since 2007.

They would have heard that half the people living in poverty in BC have a job, or two, or three. In Metro Vancouver, just over 100,000 working people are poor. Not surprising given that the minimum wage is about half the living wage, which reflects the actual cost of living. Work should lift you out of poverty but it doesnít for so many in our province.

If the government were listening, they would have heard that BC has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada, with 1 in 5 children living in poverty. Almost half a million British Columbians experience some level of food insecurity. Yet BC is the only province without a poverty reduction plan.

They would have heard that other places are saving lives and money with poverty reduction plans. Newfoundland and Labrador reduced food insecurity by 50% by raising welfare rates. Quebec provides universal childcare that takes the burden off families and makes money for the government. With provincial funding, Medicine Hat, Alberta has ended homelessness in their city by building homes.

They would have heard that poverty is bad for all of us. Homeless people die half a lifetime younger. Children in poverty are not growing up happy and healthy. The health of all of us suffers from living in an unequal society. And our province loses 8 to 9 billion dollars each year paying for the costs of poverty.

So, this year, if youíve never written to the Finance Committee, write and tell them what you want them to hear about the poverty, homelessness and inequality in our communities and the need for a comprehensive solution. If youíve already written before, then donít bother.

On second thought, letís all write. Perhaps with an election on the horizon, now is the time for listening. Especially if weíre so loud, we canít be ignored. Weíre stronger together. So letís all tell the government to listen up!
 
Trish Garner is the Community Organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and invites you to use all or part of the Coalitionís submission when you send in your own to the Budget 2017 Consultation here
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