B.C. poverty reduction plan could reduce costs, advocates argue

Yolande Cole, Georgia Straight

As Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar completes his 31 days of living on the monthly welfare rate of $610, advocates are calling for a plan that they argue would cost less than half of what is currently spent on poverty.

“Poverty’s costing our province between $8 and $9 billion a year — that’s a conservative estimate,” said Seth Klein, B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), at a press conference in the Downtown Eastside today (January 30).

“The cost of actually fully implementing a bold, comprehensive poverty reduction plan is less than half of that.”

Klein said according to the organization’s calculation, the cost of addressing the “poverty gap” in the province, or the number of people living below the poverty line, is about $2.4 billion a year.

“By what logic, in a society as wealthy as ours, with an annual gross domestic product of over $200 billion a year, says we can’t close a poverty gap of 2.4?” asked Klein.

According to the CCPA’s calculation, annual costs of poverty in B.C. include $1.2 billion in health care, $745 million in crime costs, and an estimated $6.2 billion in lost productivity.

In contrast, researchers with the organization estimate that the cost of a poverty reduction plan, including measures such as raising welfare rates by 50 percent, building new social housing, and implementing a universal, publicly-funded childcare program, would be about $3 to $4 billion.

Bill Hopwood, an organizer with the Raise the Rates coalition, the group behind the one-month welfare challenge, noted that half a million people in B.C. live in poverty.

“That’s roughly one in nine people in British Columbia, and if you then think of their families and their friends and their colleagues, and then if you think that a lot of people in B.C. are one or two paycheques away from poverty…it isn’t a minority issue,” he said. “It affects most people directly or indirectly in British Columbia.”…

The MLA [Jagrup Brar] described everything he has experienced during the challenge as shocking and eye-opening.

“I take with me the most profound, powerful, heartbreaking stories of people struggling in poverty, and I take that home, and I take that with me forever,” he said….

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