Friday, June 05, 2009

B.C. worst for child poverty for sixth year

The good news is that fewer B.C. kids were living in poverty in 2007.
The bad news is that the “Best Place on Earth” has the highest child poverty rate in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
Worse, perhaps, is the fact that despite six consecutive years of that dismal distinction, poor children — children generally — weren’t mentioned much in the provincial election campaign.
That bothered Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the legislature’s Representative for Children and Youth. Turpel-Lafond, the first representative appointed after Ted Hughes’ damning report called for an advocate and watchdog for children and families, was hoping for more.
“I was quite disappointed with the fact that the situation for children was not a central issue,” said Turpel-Lafond. It’s not just child poverty, she noted. There are also the grim stats for aboriginal children, on indicators from health to education to their over-representation in government care, and a list of other issues.
Instead, Turpel-Lafond said the campaign seemed to focus on the leaders’ personalities, with a nod to the economy and the environment as issues.
Based on her travels and contacts with British Columbians, Turpel-Lafond says the politicians are out of touch. The public cares about issues affecting children and expects non-partisan action.
That’s what she’s hoping for the new session. The representative reports to a legislative committee, which was supposed to be working for children and youth but too often bogged down in politics — “The government side was there to defend and the opposition side was there to attack.” She’s hoping all MLAs — especially the chair and vice-chair — will set aside past differences.
The need for effective action is greater now. Turpel-Lafond says the situation for children has deteriorated with the economy. Services like legal aid and family court are underfunded and demand is mounting.
But often, she says, the focus seems to be on managing the way the public views issues rather than actually tackling the problems.
There’s another risk as government looks at spending cuts to reduce a deficit soaring far beyond the budgeted $495 million. The Ministry of Children and Families was to get a 1.8 per cent budget increase to cover this year and the next two. Not 1.8 per cent a year; that’s the total increase over three years to cope with increasing caseloads and rising costs.
“The bottom line is when you cut services and programs there is one group affected more than anybody — poor people,” Turpel-Lafond says. “Poor kids get hurt.”
Which leads back to child poverty. If you want to predict children’s futures, don’t look at IQ, where they were born, age of parents, gender, race or any other factors.
Look at family income. Poor kids start in a deep hole.
You can have an interesting debate about how to define poor or low income. Statistics Canada uses the low-income cutoff (LICO). If a family spends more than 70 per cent of its pre-tax income on shelter, food and clothing, it is low income.
On average, an urban Canadian family of four with a total pre-tax income of less than $40,000 is considered low income. That’s two parents, working full-time at $10.25 an hour. Which sounds poor to me.
Across Canada, 9.5 per cent of children live in poverty. In B.C., 13 per cent of children do. Since 2001, B.C. has had a higher proportion of children living in poverty than any other province.
That was through, for the most part, pretty good times. As the economy worsens, more and more children fall into poverty.
Yet the provincial government has no plan specifically aimed at reducing child poverty. There are no targets or timelines or accountability measures.
Turpel-Lafond says there is nothing mysterious or magical about improving life for children in B.C. “We know what to do, we just aren’t doing it.”
The needs are greater than ever before. We’ll know in the next few months how seriously the government takes its responsibility.
Footnote: The representative’s role, as recommended by Hughes, includes monitoring and reporting on the ministry’s progress. The next update is due soon.
The impression from outside is that the ministry continues to struggle; the report should provide a decent briefing paper for whoever succeeds the retired Tom Christensen as minister — the fifth person to hold the job since the Liberals were elected.


DPL said...

The Province Newpaper editorial cartoon today( Friday) was right on. Gordo with six gold medals all saying child poverty as he struck a winners pose. The guy cares little about those kids in poverty, as he collects money for the big circus of 2010. But he got relected so figures he can do just whatever he wants to do.

Anonymous said...

"The public cares about issues affecting children and expects non-partisan action."

What public would that be? The one that just gave Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals a third mandate? Dr Phil McGraw recently coined the phrase "Pollyanna disconnect", with which I'd say you, Paul, are afflicted, when you attempt to dis-associate "the public" from the actions of the leadership they freely choose. Once again British Columbians chose to cling to their tax cuts before rejecting the authors of such well known and deplorable child poverty stats as your column decries. That public owns as much of the responsibility for child poverty in this province as anyone else. We can talk the talk all we want, Paul, and repeat ad nauseum that we are a caring and compassionate lot, but by the end of this government's mandate an entire generation of British Columbia's poorest will have been sacrificed at the alter of the god of tax cuts.

BC Liberals Suck said...

I have to agree with Anonymous 7:27 AM above and maybe even go one step further. After ensuring a third BC Liberal majority, either by voting for them, or not voting at all, we can only be left with the reality that a majority of BC's citizens approve of and encourage the poverty of a generation of BC's children. This will come home to roost on all of us.

I know I've done my part to get the word out about this government's harm to our children & youth. I've taken direct action to raise awareness of the deprivation and how the Campbell government for the last 6 years has ensured, through their social policy decisions, that thousands of children in BC have been deprived of the necessities of life. That is not just a violation of the many human rights Conventions Canada has signed, but also a Criminal Code of Canada offense.

The heart of a government can be seen in how it treats it's most vulnerable - it's children, it's seniors, it's disabled. That BC Liberal heart is stone cold and a dead, blacked lump. And it can only be said that this is true for those who voted to continue a legacy of poverty and deprivation for our own people, those who needed the rest of us to speak for them and their needs.

Ye shall reap, what ye have sown, while our children suffer each and every day. We should be ashamed of ourselves in BC. But it's not too late, all of us could make a difference in our communities if we cared enough to do so.