Tuesday, December 01, 2009

B.C. worst for child poverty, again

The annual report card on child poverty was released last week. For the sixth straight year, B.C. had the highest proportion of poor children in the country.
The report, based on StatsCan's 2007 numbers, found 19 per cent of children in B.C. are living in poverty - about 156,000 boys and girls.
Nationally, the proportion was 15 per cent. If B.C. could just achieve the Canadian average, 30,000 children would be lifted out of poverty.
You could have a long, pointless debate about how poverty is measured. There are flaws in any approach.
But the report card, compiled in this province by First Call, uses the same measurement across Canada. And B.C. consistently has the highest number of kids living in poor homes.
Children's Minister Mary Polak, to her credit, didn't try to challenge the numbers.
She said that while B.C. might have the highest rate in Canada, progress was being made. The child poverty rate was the lowest in 20 years, Polak told the legislature.
That's true, barely. In 2002, according to the First Call report released six years ago, the child poverty rate in B.C. was 19.6 per cent and 167,000 children were living in poverty. So in six years of economic growth, B.C. has been able to reduce the proportion of poor children by less than one percentage point.
And since other provinces have been making greater strides, it has stayed in last place.
The NDP was pushing, again, for a plan to reduce child poverty. Six other provinces have them, with targets, timelines, actions and accountability.
But the Liberal government refuses to take the step. (Earlier this year, Premier Gordon Campbell refused Children's Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond's request for a joint meeting with NDP leader Carole James to talk about a non-partisan effort to reduce child poverty.)
James raised the issue in her speech to the NDP convention the weekend. It could fit nicely with the approach the party needs to take to turn its current lead in opinion polls into a victory in 2013.
New Democrats have been fretting since the May election, concerned they blew an opportunity for victory and worried about avoiding the same fate the next time. (The convention rates a separate column.)
Child poverty is a good issue for the party, and not because helping poor children reflects traditional NDP values around social change.
The real opportunity lies in stressing not compassion, but competence and the long-term pragmatic benefits in addressing child poverty and other such issues.
The economic benefits of reducing child poverty are clear. Poor children do less well in school and in work. They have greater lifetime health and social problems. Addressing the issue saves money.
And the Liberals' lack of a plan reflects badly not only on their interest in helping poor children, but their competence.
Having a plan, with actions and timelines and targets, is an essential tool for management and accountability. Without one, the government is at risk of unco-ordinated, costly and ultimately ineffectual efforts.
With one, and commitment, quick progress could be made.
Income assistance rates for families, for example, currently leave families deep in poverty. A single parent with two children, for example, receives about $16,000 a year. After even modest rent - say $750 a month - a family of three has less than $150 a week for everything else, from food to bus passes to kids clothes.
Simply increasing the rates would lift 30,000 children out of poverty.
Those are the kinds of measures that would be part of a plan - if the government would adopt one. In an ideal world, the plan would include a realistic estimate not just of the costs, but also of the future savings and economic benefits.
The moral case is strong too, of course. If this was the best place on Earth, it wouldn't have the highest child poverty rate in Canada.
Footnote: Many people argue that adults should suffer for poor choices. But few people would suggest that children should live in poverty because of an accident of birth in a province with the ability and resources to make an immediate difference in their lives.


Kim said...

Thank you Paul, for being the voice of reason in this troubling time. I read you here all the time.

Anonymous said...

campbell is an instrument of what passes for the business community in bc.they demand a weak, poor desperate, fearful compliant workforce and is doing a first rate job of getting the next generation of peasents in right frame of mind.

Anonymous said...

Mary Polak turns the report into a good news story. You've got to admit the Campbell Liberals can recruit like-minded ministerial candidates. But really, how could Campbell think of raising any children out of poverty in this province by increasing welfare rates? The roof of the stadium needs repairs and he's committed to spending a billion tax dollars on Olympic Games security. Besides all of that Paul, it's the principal of the thing - ie. "What's in it for them?" Dream on!


DPL said...

The kids simply arn't in Gordos list of things to do, so they will continue to do without as long as the Liberals have the power to ignore what they want to ignore