Notes from the Upper Mainland: Reducing Poverty

Nicholas Simons, The Local [Sunshine Coast]

It seems like the appetite for developing a strategy for reducing poverty in BC is growing. Our high rates of poverty, and the actions of other Provinces are finally embarrassing government ministers (and leadership candidates) into talking about our vulnerable people.

A comprehensive policy must address employment standards, income supports, and social programs –which include early learning and childcare, housing, and legal assistance. Reducing poverty is an expensive investment in the future. Some of the dividends are immediate, while others will take longer to become evident. When the government isn’t denying a problem, they ask ‘how will you pay for it?’ While they don’t ask the same question when a $600 million retractable roof is announced, or $400 million are given by government to subsidize casinos, it is still a legitimate question.

The answer is that poverty reduction pays for itself. Not quickly enough to fit into the election cycle, but within a generation. This is shaky and dangerous ground in a political environment that expects snappy answers to difficult questions. It should not stop decision makers from making the effort to address the massive disparity between the rich and poor.

Some estimates suggest a real antipoverty strategy could cost up to $2 billion annually. This would of course include massive infrastructure spending on affordable housing, a comprehensive early learning and childcare program, as well as increased income assistance rates. What possible benefits could come from such expenditure?

A healthier society, a more productive workforce, safer children, community resilience, less homelessness, more volunteerism, fewer prisons, cohesive families, and a higher ‘happiness factor’are all possible benefits. Estimates suggest that the financial rewards, (should healthier and happier people not be enough) are substantial. Studies in Ontario, the U.K. and the U.S.A. indicate that costs associated with poverty range between 2 and 5.2 per cent of GDP. In British Columbia’s case, this would amount to between $4 and $10 billion in costs per year.

In light of the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s recent report on the deaths of infants, it is the responsibility of government to recognize that there is a problem with poverty in this Province, and to take action to address the troubling situation.