Who is the BCPRC and what does it do?
The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition is an organization of over 50 member organizations and 400 other supporting organizations from across BC. All these organizations agree that British Columbia needs a poverty reduction plan with targets and timelines. We are the last province in Canada without such a plan. Our Coalition meets several times a year to discuss how best to move the government towards developing a poverty reduction plan.
Our Coalition is dedicated to justice not charity, therefore we want upstream change. We are proposing that the government develop a poverty reduction plan that addresses these seven pillars: welfare, low wages, housing, childcare, education, health, and a focus on marginalized people. There is more information about our campaign in several of our paper hand outs.
Is the call to reduce poverty really achievable/realistic?
Yes, we can do it if we set our minds to it. But the key is to have legislated targets and timelines and an accountable plan, where a Minister must report annually on progress, and extra measures can be taken to stay on target if necessary. (This short funny video highlights the importance of setting targets.)
The policies needed to reduce poverty significantly are not a mystery. It just requires focus and determination. It takes all elements of society, but we need the provincial government to lead.
There is nothing inevitable about poverty and homelessness in a society as wealthy as ours.
What do you mean by upstream change?
Upstream change means that we are focused on changing policy that will promote equality in our society rather than simply giving charity to individuals that will stay in poverty without structural changes.
Imagine that you have an old house that leaks when it rains. We are interested in fixing the roof instead of mopping up the water on the floor every time it rains. That’s upstream change.
This doesn’t mean that we are against individuals giving to charity. Individuals in BC are very generous but still BC has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. We want the government to make policy that will make lasting change for our citizens.
It sounds like reducing poverty would cost the government a lot of money. Can our province afford it?
Actually, the cost of doing nothing about poverty is far higher for our province. If you’d like to look at this hand out on the cost of poverty, you can see that the cost of doing nothing is around $9 billion per year while the cost of a poverty reduction plan would be $4 billion per year. We would save money by helping people get out of poverty.
What’s the point of a Poverty Reduction Plan?
BC is the last province without a poverty reduction strategy. A poverty reduction plan allows for a comprehensive understanding of the complicated situation of poverty and allows for several strategies that can affect change. A plan with targets and timelines can help hold a government accountable to achieve their goals. Yet, the content of the plan and the commitment of the government is important. For example, Newfoundland implemented its plan in 2006 and its poverty rate has consistently reduced every year. It is now at 5%, one of the lowest in Canada.
Why is our government spending so much money on refugees when people in our own country need help?
We don’t see these as competing issues but instead the inclusion of refugees is an opportunity for solidarity around the need for a poverty reduction plan.
First of all, we believe in human rights for everyone. All people have the right to a dignified life, regardless of their nationality. Therefore, it is important when working towards a more just society that we don’t discriminate against others.
Second, from our cost of poverty handout you can see that the government is spending more money on doing nothing than they would on a poverty reduction plan. There is enough money to help British Columbians in poverty as well as others, if our government were to develop a poverty reduction plan.
Third, the inclusion of new groups suffering from poverty is an opportunity to unite around important issues. We don’t need to fight other groups for small crumbs of charity, but instead, we need to work together to push for dignity for all people through upstream change.
I’m okay with helping people in need but I don’t want my tax dollars going to raising welfare. Poor people should just get jobs.
It is a myth that people living poverty don’t work. Actually, most poor people in BC are working. One third of families living in poverty have at least one parent working full time.
Unfortunately, having a job doesn’t mean that you aren’t living in poverty in BC because wages can be low and costs are high. In 2016 the minimum wage is $10.45 per hour, while the living wage for Metro Vancouver was calculated at $20.64 per hour. As you can see lots of people in this province are poor even though they have jobs.
Nevertheless, we would like to see a raise in welfare rates so that people can survive. The welfare rate is $610 a month and this number has not increased for nearly 10 years. This is not enough money to live and eat so it’s almost impossible to try and find a job and get back on your feet in this situation.
Most poor people are just addicts. I don’t want my money to go to them buying drugs instead of getting out of poverty?
Again, a lot of poor people in this province actually have jobs but are having trouble making ends meet due to high costs of housing, childcare, and other expenses. Poverty is impacting people with jobs and homes.
Nevertheless, there are many people in BC that suffer from addictions. However, studies on an approach called Housing First have shown that providing safe and stable housing can have the effect of reducing addictions and mental health issues. Instead of waiting for people to conquer their addictions before we will house them, it is important to have affordable housing solutions to help people recover and manage.
For reasons like these, the Poverty Reduction Coalition is calling for upstream change. We want the province to work on strategies beyond charity and band-aid solutions and commit to a poverty reduction plan that would focus on many dimensions of poverty from an upstream perspective.
Why are people homeless?
We know that people can be homeless for many reasons. However, the cost of housing in this province, and especially in Vancouver, is a significant reason. The median cost of rent for a modest apartment for a family of four in Metro Vancouver is $1450 per month, while a single occupancy room in the Downtown Eastside is now often over $500 per month. These are huge expenses for low income people. That is why our poverty reduction plan aims to address housing and promote affordable housing solutions to help people vulnerable to homelessness or already living on the street.
In our plan, we call for the provincial government to build at least 2,000 units per year of social housing and increase supported housing units for people with mental health or addiction issues.
Why the focus on the provincial government, rather than the private sector, community, society at large or other levels of government?
All levels of government and all sectors of society need to be part of the solution, and all have a role to play. But it makes sense for the province to lead. The province has the resources. The province determines minimum wages, and welfare rates and policies. The province is the main funder of front-line community service agencies. The province should be the main builder of social housing. Most of the key policy areas needed to reduce poverty and homelessness come under provincial jurisdiction.
Is the Low-Income Cut Off (the LICO) really the best measure to use? Isn’t that a relative measure that never really improves?
Statistics Canada’s LICO is a good measure, and a widely used poverty line. (It is not a purely relative measure, but a hybrid absolute and relative measure. If incomes improve, and the cost of basic needs does not go up equivalently, then poverty rates will decline). The Market Basket Measure produced by the federal government is another good measure, and a poverty line based solely on the actual costs of goods and services in a given community. That would be fine too. The point is to pick a credible measure that is produced each year, so that progress can be tracked. And then to legislate targets and timelines based on that measure.