Op-ed: B.C. must stop ignoring child-poverty issue

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By Carole James, New Democrat Critic for Children and Family Development

Another year has passed, but little has changed for B.C. children living in poverty.

For a decade now, child poverty has been more prevalent in B.C. than anywhere else in Canada. Last week, First Call B.C.’s 2013 child report card confirmed that our province maintained this shameful record once again in 2013 with a child poverty rate of 18.6 per cent – more than five per cent higher than the national average, resulting in 153,000 children in poverty in our province today.

These are more than just numbers and statistics. These are children in our neighbourhoods who are going to school hungry, living in unsecure housing, and making do without a winter coat.

I believe that everyone, regardless of political stripe, can agree that this situation is unacceptable. Yet for years, the Liberal government has avoided facing this reality.

Premier Christy Clark and a string of B.C. Liberal ministers have long argued that the solution to poverty is growing the economy. I believe a strong economy is critical, but clearly after a decade of having the worst child poverty rate in the country, the B.C. Liberals must admit that either they have failed to grow the economy, or that the solutions are more complex than they are willing to admit.

The government tried a piecemeal approach that has done little to get help to those who need it. Last year, they introduced a pilot project that they claimed would begin to tackle the issue. In the end, the project served a total of 72 families and was cancelled without anything to replace it.

Child poverty has serious, lifelong implications. Poverty is the number one barrier to good health, and a significant barrier to a child’s success later in life. Children living in poverty are at a higher risk of developmental delays and physical health problems, and are more likely than their peers to drop out of school. Poverty has been linked to higher rates of violence, imprisonment and addiction.

These consequences not only impact those children and their families living in poverty, but they also have a profound impact on our communities and economy as a whole.

Many of these families living in poverty have a parent who is working full time, but with the cost of living on the rise, incomes stagnant, and the high cost of rent, food, utilities, education and training, and childcare, getting out of the cycle of poverty is getting harder all the time.

Facing the problem of child poverty in this province will not be easy. It is complex and will not be solved overnight. But that must not stop us from getting started. It requires all of us, citizens, communities, businesses, faith groups, and the not for profit sector, to do our part.

And it must also include a clear commitment from the provincial government.

It’s time to make that commitment before another year is lost. Like governments of all different political stripes across our country, the B.C. Liberal government needs to commit to a province-wide comprehensive poverty reduction plan, with clear, measurable targets and timelines.

Government measures and reports out on a number of areas, such as jobs and tourism, in order to focus resources and improve performance. Surely reducing the number of children living in poverty and improving outcomes for those children and our province is just as important, and worthy of monitoring to ensure that progress is being made.

Let’s not let another year in the lives of these children go by without taking action. Children deserve our focus, our attention, and our commitment.

When the legislature returns in February, the official opposition will once again for the third time table legislation calling for that comprehensive action plan to be put in place. I would ask all MLAs to join together to act now. What could be more important for our future than coming together to show our support together for children?

This op-ed appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist on Dec. 13, 2013: http://bit.ly/IJMYm3