Poverty’s existence comes down to government choices

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By Trish Garner, originally published in The Province

There is no need for poverty in B.C. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Bad choices by government have left us with the second-highest poverty rate in Canada at 13 per cent — that’s 600,000 people, and 122,000 of those are kids. Yet B.C. is now the only province without a poverty-reduction plan. The provincial election on May 9 provides us with a chance to make a good choice, in support of tackling the root causes of poverty through a comprehensive poverty-reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines.

And don’t believe anyone who tells you they’re safeguarding our economy if they aren’t tackling poverty. The fact is that poverty is costing us billions in B.C. Let’s stop mopping up the floor and fix the hole in the roof.

So, what are the commitments from the three main political parties to address poverty?

The Liberals have rebranded their existing programs as a project called LIFT, which starts with their Jobs Plan as “the best social program.” There are no targets and timelines and it doesn’t commit to any specific objectives.

In contrast, the Green party commits to implementing a poverty-reduction plan with benchmarks for progress and the NDP commits to implementing legislation to bring in a poverty-reduction strategy with targets and timelines. Legislation gives it the necessary durability to last through future political choices, which may not prioritize tackling poverty.

Too many people in B.C. are in deep poverty trying to survive on income-assistance rates of only $610 per month, which have been frozen for a decade now. Ignoring this, the Liberals will only provide another increase of $50 per month for people with disabilities. The Green party will increase income assistance to $915 a month and disability rates to $1,549 a month by 2020, while the NDP will raise all rates by $100 per month and restore the bus-pass program for people with disabilities.

B.C. also has the highest rate of working poverty in Canada. The so-called Jobs Plan isn’t working. The current minimum wage is set to increase to $11.35 in September, but this will still keep a worker below the poverty line. The NDP commits to bringing in a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2021, with increases each year. Once it reaches $15 an hour, they will index the minimum wage to inflation. The Green party will establish a fair-wages commission to determine a new minimum wage.

We’re facing a housing and homelessness crisis in B.C. In response, the NDP commits to building 11,400 new “rental, non-profit, co-op and owner-purchase” units per year for the next decade. The Green party commits to building 4,000 new units of affordable housing per year, and both Greens and NDP promise to enhance the Residential Tenancy Act. Liberals promise 5,300 units of affordable, social housing over three to five years, but projects include repurposing and renovations in addition to new stock.

Other highlights include the NDP’s commitment to address family affordability through implementing the $10-a-day child-care plan and all parties promise reductions to MSP premiums: Liberals will cut them by 50 per cent, while both the Green party and NDP will eliminate them.

Poverty isn’t inevitable. It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s a political choice. And I urge you to choose to end poverty, starting May 9, and continuing beyond that to make long-lasting, meaningful change.

Trish Garner is community organizer with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition. Find more election analysis and the parties’ full responses at Make Poverty Public.