BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Food for thought

Alarm bells ringing over level of childhood poverty in B.C.

Not everything appears to be well on the home front.

First Call: the B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition is ringing alarm bells about the level of childhood poverty.

“18.6 per cent of B.C. children were poor in 2011, up from 14.3 per cent in 2010, according to the latest figures published by Statistics Canada. This is higher than any other province and more than five percentage points higher than the Canadian average,” says the coalition’s latest report card.

“The number of poor children in B.C. was 153,000 (up from 119,000 in 2010) — enough children to fill the Canucks stadium over eight times. This represents about one of every five B.C. children.”

Children living in single-mother families had a 50 per cent poverty rate in 2011, a sharp hike from 21.5 per cent in 2010.

Fourteen per cent of children living in two-parent families are in poverty — worse than any other province in Canada.

And things don’t get any better when a parent is working.

The report card indicates that nearly one-third of B.C.’s poor children live in families where at least one parent has a full-time, year-round job.

B.C.’s poverty rate for young children (under six) was 21 per cent, eight per cent higher than the Canadian average.

“High levels of income inequality in BC and elsewhere are associated with a long list of social costs and are damaging to economic growth,” said Anita Huberman, Surrey Board of Trade CEO, in a release issued by the coalition.

“We know that key public investments in quality child care and affordable housing will save us money in the long run and build healthier families and productive workplaces.”

The coalition is demanding action, everything from a $10 a day child care plan and increasing affordable housing options to paying a living wage and improving the affordability of post-secondary education.

“B.C. stands out as having done the least among all provinces to bring down child and family poverty through government supports and programs,” said Adrienne Montani, First Call’s provincial co-ordinator.

And that is something B.C. shouldn’t be proud of.

Why are other provinces making strides on childhood poverty, while conditions in B.C. seem to languish? With all of Victoria’s focus on the economy and training, many families are left sitting on the sidelines.

But, of course, nothing is black and white.

Increasing the minimum wage or promoting a living wage — about $18 an hour‚ places financial pressure on employers and that could translate to fewer staff on the payroll. Government investment in affordable housing or child care influences tax rates, which hits families in the pocket book.

Because of the complexities of the issue, the provincial and federal governments need to pursue a solution for poverty by sitting down with employers, labour, social agencies and educators. Poverty should not be seen as an us-and-them scenario but something to tackle together.

And there is a role for citizens to play.

Lobby your MLA, MP and civic politicians to do more. Even if they do nothing, at least they can’t say residents never raised the matter.

You can also provide support (moral or financial) to a family member, friend or neighbour you know is struggling to make ends meet. Just knowing you are not alone can make a difference.

Today, realtors in the North Okanagan will be going door-to-door to collect donations for the food banks. It’s obviously not the solution to poverty, but it will ensure a child has something to eat, even if it’s just for one night.

Ultimately, the latest report card on child poverty should force all of us to challenge the status quo.





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