May 092013
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Increased government support for families would save money in the long-term.

by Ted Bruce, Trish Garner and Seth Klein

We’ve heard a lot of concern about government spending recently. What is rarely said, however, is that government spending has the potential to be an investment for British Columbians. It can rebuild the social supports that British Columbians need, improve economic productivity and save money in the long-term.
The fact is that poverty is costing us billions in this province. Higher public health care costs, increased policing and crime costs, lost productivity, and foregone economic activity add up to $8-9 billion per year. In contrast, the estimated cost of a strong, comprehensive poverty reduction plan once fully phased in over a few years is $3-4 billion per year.

British Columbia has the highest rate of poverty in Canada, but is one of the last provinces left without a poverty reduction plan. More than half a million (510,000) people live in poverty in BC and 87,000 of those are children. To address this crisis, a poverty reduction strategy needs to set out a plan with legislated targets and timelines to boost the incomes of low-income households and provide much-needed public goods, like social housing, universal child care, training and education, and preventative and community health care.

It is clear that whichever party wins the upcoming election, much more work remains to be done to convince our political leadership to implement a strong poverty reduction strategy that will make a real difference in people’s lives.

Given this, what are the commitments from the four main political parties – Liberals, NDP, Conservatives and Greens – to address poverty? There is not enough space to go into detail here – for that, you can read their platforms on their websites – but here are some brief insights into their approaches.

  • The Liberals state that their "Jobs Plan" will tackle poverty — but it does not address barriers to employment such as lack of child care.
  • The NDP promises to introduce a poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines, which is good news. But their target to lift 8,400 children out of poverty over 4 years, less than 10 percent of those currently living in poverty, is inadequate.
  • The Greens aim to end poverty through a Guaranteed Livable Income combined with comprehensive programs.
  • The Conservatives recognize the need for higher wage jobs and “a strong social-safety net” but provide no details as to what that would contain.

 The Liberals' “Job Plan” is simply not enough to tackle poverty. Most poor people already have a job in the paid labour force. According to the latest Child Poverty Report Card, 43 percent of children living in poverty in BC live in families with at least one adult working full-time for the whole year, and the majority live in families with at least some paid work.
The NDP would take some of the steps called for by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. Most importantly, if they form government in May, tabling poverty reduction legislation will be a priority.  The biggest piece of the NDP’s plan is the BC Family Bonus, which would be provided to all low-income families, both those on welfare and those in the low-wage workforce. Unlike the Liberals' benefit, it targets those families that most need it.
The NDP has also promised to address the inaccessibility and unaffordability of child care by increasing spaces and reducing fees by 20 percent for infant and toddler spaces. It’s not the $10/day Child Care Plan but it’s a step in the right direction. The Liberals have made a commitment to increase spaces but have not addressed the skyrocketing fees.
Neither the Liberals nor the NDP have committed to addressing the inadequacy of welfare rates, which have been frozen since 2007. The Liberals offer no increases. The NDP promises to index welfare rates to inflation, double the earnings exemption to $400 and re-introduce the child maintenance exemption up to $100. However, the promise to raise the rates by a mere $20 in 2 years, making it $630 per month, is completely inadequate.
The centerpiece of the Greens’ approach to addressing poverty is a Guaranteed Livable Income. While this has the potential to lift people out of poverty and replace the current bureaucratic, punitive welfare system, caution must be taken. Most significantly, minimum wage legislation is still necessary, not “irrelevant” as the Greens state, because business must play a role in providing adequate incomes for people.
It is clear that whichever party wins the upcoming election, much more work remains to be done to convince our political leadership to implement a strong poverty reduction strategy that will make a real difference in people’s lives. So talk to your local candidates in the next week, vote for the party that best addresses your concerns, and then join us after May 14 in advancing the call for a comprehensive and ambitious poverty reduction plan.

A summary of party responses to the poverty reduction call can be found here.

About BC Poverty Reduction Coalition

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition includes community and non-profit groups, faith groups, health organizations, First Nations and Aboriginal organizations, businesses, labour organizations, and social policy groups. We have come together around a campaign aimed at seeing the introduction of a bold and comprehensive poverty reduction plan from the government of British Columbia that would include legislated targets and timelines to significantly reduce poverty and homelessness. We seek to improve the health and wellbeing of all British Columbians.

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