Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Child poverty meeting rejected by premier

It seemed a reasonable request.
The Representative for Children and Youth asked Premier Gordon Campbell and NDP leader Carole James to meet with her on the growing problem of child poverty.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative, is worried. For six years in a row, Statistics Canada reported, B.C. has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada.
And the recession has greatly increased the number of children at risk.
Children's lives today, and their futures, should be above partisan considerations. Turpel-Lafond invited the two leaders to sit down and talk about what is being done, and could be done, to help children.
James said yes.
Campbell said no. He refused even a meeting, brushing off the Children and Youth Representative and the issue of child poverty.
There are reasons for the premier to worry. The representative might point out problems - that is part of the job, created in as a result of the damning Hughes' report on the government's failures on children's issues. James might look for political advantage.
But the plight of some 126,000 B.C. children - with that number growing each week - seems more important than those political considerations.
The problems are serious. For six years, Statistics Canada has reported that B.C. has the highest proportion of children in poverty. You can quarrel about the definition of poverty, but StatsCan is comparing provinces on the same basis. And year after year, B.C. ranks at the bottom.
Across Canada in 2007, 9.5 per cent of children live in poverty. In B.C., 13 per cent of children fell below the poverty line. That is an improvement.
But not enough to move B.C. out of last place on child poverty. And it still meant 126,000 children in B.C. were living on the margins.
That number is much higher now. The recession has sent families on a downward spiral. Jobs are lost - there were 103,000 fewer people with full-time jobs in May than a year earlier.
Some people find work at lower wages. Others go on unemployment insurance. When that runs out - and any savings are gone - they end up on welfare, now known as income assistance. The government has kept life on income assistance pretty miserable. The focus should be on helping those who can work to find a job, the Liberals maintained.
It's a defensible position when the economy is growing and employers are hiring.
But it not when families with no options are forced to live in grinding poverty.
In four months, the number of children living on welfare has jumped almost nine per cent. A single parent with two children who is considered employable receives up to $660 a month on income assistance for rent. It's tough to find a decent one-bedroom - for three people - for that amount.
In addition, the family on assistance gets $650 a month for everything else. Try it. Put $650 in a jar and see if you and two children can make it through the month.
Bus passes, food, insurance, clothes, school trips, a movie with friends for your daughter, swimming lessons. Which will you drop?
If you get reckless, and spend $7 a day on food for each of the three people, all the income assistance is gone.
That's a long digression, but with a point. Times are grim for a lot of children in B.C. - for a higher percentage here than anywhere else in Canada). We benefit when children make the most of their potential.
But Campbell refused a meeting to talk about how we could give more children a chance to build great lives here.
Other provinces have already set out plans for reducing child poverty, with timelines and actions and targets to measure progress. B.C. has not taken that basic step.
The children's representative offered a simple opportunity to look at a critical problem. And the premier said no.
Footnote: Campbell said the representative should discuss child poverty with the legislative committee on children and youth. The committee has not met in almost eight months, and in any case has no power to direct the government or bring about improvements.


kathleen stephany said...

A society is judged by how it treats those who are most marginalized and I am ashamed of how our current government has its priorities so out of order. Our most vulnerable children and families suffer while our government spends countless millions on cost over runs for a two week Olympic event in 2010. Sooner or later there must be a wake up call. Our children are our future and if we continue to fail them then we fail everyone. When will Gordon Campbell and his government get a conscience and do what is right in a real planned effort to end child poverty in this rich province? The Olympics will come and go but the long term consequences of neglecting our children will be remain as a sad portrait left in full view for generations to come.

Kathleen Stephany PhD

Advocacy BC said...

As social workers in BC we add our voices to other stakeholder groups, organizations and individuals, such as the Representative for Children & Youth that struggle to have the BC government understand and live by it's duty and obligations towards BC's children, youth and families. We offer real world solutions, based on evidence-based research and experience of improvements other jurisdictions have made in reducing child and family poverty. It takes vision, true leadership and commitment to make change and it is possible. Our children are too important to continue to do so little.

June 15, 2009
Strengthening the Child Welfare System
An Open Letter to the New Minister of Children & Family Development
BC Association of Social Workers

Our full statement and recommendations can be read here:


Tracey Young, MSW, RSW
Chair ~ Child Welfare & Family Committee

Paul, thanks for continuing to challenge the BC government on their record where children, youth and families are involved, we need more journalists doing so.

DPL said...

Gordo goes nowhere except where he and his handlers can control the place. Poor kids are not a concern as far as he is concerned and the person elected by both parties to look into such things is seen by him to be a threat to his being big man. The judge has way more smarts than he has so the kids will just have to do without as he comes out with more grand ideas, or visions.

Dawn Steele said...

The Premier has actually gotten teary-eyed talking about his grandchildren - clearly he genuinely wants to ensure they have a bright future and are well provided for.

But he has demonstrated over and over again that he doesn't give a flying fig about what happens to other people's children - unless it involves significant negative political consequences for him personally.

Disturbingly creepy, really.

Anonymous said...

On June 24 the Times Colonist's Lindsay Kines did a really good article on this issue. Kines' piece was followed up a few days later by a TC editorial.

Sadly, no other media seems to care.

Anonymous said...

It’s easy to be the critic and offer up no solutions, Wilcocks does that on a weekly basis. How about those of you who like to constantly complain instead offer up some solutions?

Should we eliminate BC incomes taxes and MSP Payments for low income families? Already done

Should we provide daycare subsidies? That too is already done

Should we provide rental subsidies to low income families? We already doing that as well.

We also have a taxpayer subsidized Family maintenance program to help collect from deadbeat parents ?

So bottom line; you can pay no tax, get free health care, get a day care subsidy, get a rental subsidy and have help collecting from your ex-spouse.

What else can be done? The fact is there is only so much hand holding that ANY government can do be it NDP, Liberal of whatever. To me this government, much like every government previous is trying different programs and ideas.

And yet some people would rather just complain all the time. How about offering up something non political that is actually constructive?

Dawn Steele said...

Anon wants constructive suggestions.

Let's start with the no-brainers:

1)That Premier Campbell - as the key decision maker who controls all major policy and funding decisions for the Provincial government - actually sit down and listen to the independent children's representative whom he hired (at our expense) to advise his government and the public on what needs to be done, instead of tantrumming and pouting like an adolescent diva or a spoilt toddler.

2) That the Premier, his key staff and his Cabinet all visit the Representative's Website, where they will find a plethora of constructive suggestions - serious reports, evidence-based recommendations and common-sense advice.

Second, contrary to Anon's suggestion that everything possible has already been done, the easiest way to effect constructive changes may involve simply reversing some of the BC Liberal cuts and policies since 2001 that have proved to be most destructive:

1) Restore former daycare subsidy policies so that more children living in poverty can again access quality daycare.

2) Reverse welfare cuts/policies that hurt poor single parents or cut off their supports.

3) Reverse wage cuts and contracting out policies that plunged many single moms into the ranks of the working poor.

4) Reverse the steadily-rising waitlists that deny access to crucial programs like family respite, early intervention, child development, etc.

5) Reverse cuts to inner city school programs that helped support children living in poverty and their families before and after school, school meals, etc.

6) Restore targetted funding for students with learning disabilities that was eliminated in 2002, so that poor students whose parents can't afford private tutors also have an opportunity to learn and succeed.

7) Stop using the constant, endless, repetitious and pointless restructuring of MCFD as a costly scam to avoid confronting the need to actually invest seriously in rebuilding front-line supports for children living in poverty and other at-risk groups.

8) Follow through on restoring the gutted social housing programs that has contributed to the dramatic rise in homelessness and housing unaffordability province-wide.

And here are some more constructive new policy suggestions to start with:

1) Raise the minimum wage and/or adjust subsidies and credits to guarantee that any parent(s) who works an honest day can raise their children above the poverty line.

2) Enlist the Representative to assist in reviewing current support programs to ensure that any child whose parent can't or won't work their way out of poverty is not penalized for the circumstances of birth, and is given a fair opportunity to build a better life. This should result in significant targetted investment in early intervention, school-based and family support programs that support at-risk children and youth.

3) Build in transparency and proper evaluation to ensure that government-funded programs are achieving the intended results.

4) More thoughtful and targetted economic policies designed to ensure that economic benefits and opportunities also go to those who need them most - unemployed, disabled, families living in poverty, devastated rural communities - instead of simply making rich people richer and life more unaffordable for the poor and middle class (e.g. economic diversification in Prince Rupert vs. spending billions on new highways to Whistler and Olympic investments designed to spur real estate values in Vancouver and Richmond).

5) Stop wasting tax dollars on huge tax breaks for people who own 3/4-million-dollar homes and invest the savings in programs to provide more affordable housing.

Such investments end up saving taxpayers far more in the long-run. It is the current short-sighted and destructive policies that entrench costly cycles of failure and growing income inequality (ultimately promoting growing social and economic instability) that we can no longer afford to support.

DPL said...

Gosh Dawne Steele, you just have to stop talking sense, or some other Gordo fan will have to write some more BS. When we see single parents with little kids lining up at the food banks, it's enough to bother most of us,or the families sleeping in the streets. But it doesn't seem to bother the ones who rattle on about just how great things are here in BC. Our miimum wage is about the lowest around the country and our rents are the highest.
Quebec, a place we like to laugh at, has day care at 7 bucks a day so working parents arn't spenind a lot of their income getting such a service for the large amounts they pay here.

Anonymous said...

Question for Dawn Steele…where do we plant the trees where the money will grow to pay for your socialist utopia ?

off-the-radar said...

@ Dawn Steele

thank you for your wonderful comments on Paul's blogs and on other sites.

You are an inspiration and I so much appreciate your articulate, thoughtful, well-written comments. And which reflect my values, and many other British Columbians.

We, as progressives, need to reclaim our province.

Dawn Steele said...


1) Your question suggests you are not aware of the huge body of international research which confirms that targetted investment in early intervention and at-risk children and youth ends up paying for itself and indeed providing significant net savings to the public purse over the long run. It is thanks to our short-sightedness and stinginess that we end up pouring billions into hell holes like the Downtown Eastside while getting precious little in return.

2) Many major improvements can be achieved for very small investments if you do them right. But the Premier would have to start listening to his own expert to find out how. And the amounts we're talking about are insignificant compared to the vast amounts we've thrown at the Olympics and Gateway projects, for example, and with far broader, more lasting, more certain and more significant returns in terms of broad social and economic benefits.

We need to plant trees to address climate change (and to restore the forests and interior economies devastated by the Mountain Pine Beetle) but we don't need to do that to start addressing child poverty, and we can look to the examples of many other jurisdictions (...um, like the rest of Canada, for a start) to see how to do it.

How can we claim to be the "best place on earth" and tout BC's economy as successful and well-managed on one hand and then claim we can't afford to address the worst child poverty rate in Canada and growing income inequality? Our failure can not be atributed to any shortage of resources; all that's lacking is political will.

I suggested one example of tax policy above, but there is far more that we can do. Maybe we can cash in on a few of those third and fourth million-dollar homes and investment condos, trade in a few of the second and third BMWs for bikes, review whether governments should be funding things like Olympic megaprojects, downsize the Public Affairs Bureau and the army of political aides living off the public tit, roll back the exorbitant salary increases for MLAs and senior bureaucrats, stop Ministers and Deputy Ministers from hiring their friends to give them "advice" on $275/hour untendered contracts, stop giving away all the province's resources to friends of the ruling party and let the benefits instead flow in to the public treasury to help cover social service costs, as they used to in the past through agencies like BC Hydro, pursue economic diversification to attenuate the boom/bust cycle of our resource-dependent economy...

The possibilities are endless and in the end, all British Columbians would be better off. All that's lacking is political will - but until poor children can find the wherewithall to finance successful political campaigns, their interests will always be considered far behind the interests of those who do pay the way for the pipers and therefore call the tune to which they dance.

Anonymous said...

While cruising through the Okanagan the other day I came across Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak's response [Penticton Herald, July 9, 2009 - page 9] to PW.

The penultimate paragraph shows the unfathomable depth of ignorance inside Campbell's twisted regime.

"I welcome the valuable contribution that the Representative for Children and Youth can make to this discussion. Nevertheless, efforts to improve the lives of BC's children must not be politicized, and it is more constructive for the Representative to report directly to the multi-party committee of the Legislative Assembly which was developed unanimously by all members of the House. The Representative reports to and works with the multi-party committee on a broad range of issues, including child poverty. In addition, the close working relationship that exists between our Ministry and the Representative's office ensures that her input is transmitted to government in the most direct way possible."