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BC poverty election issue as 200 organizations demand government action

Open letter and petition gives concrete plan for taking on highest poverty rates in country, despite years of growth.

Representatives from the 200 signatory organizations, at the February 5 news Poverty Reduction in BC

Open letter to all British Columbia Political Parties:

February 5, 2009

It is time for British Columbia's provincial government to launch a comprehensive poverty reduction plan — a detailed and accountable strategy with concrete and legislated targets and timelines to dramatically reduce homelessness and poverty in our province. Five Canadian provinces either have such plans or are in the process of developing them, but so far, not BC.

As we approach the May provincial election, we are calling on all BC political parties to commit that, if elected to government, they will implement a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.

By any measure, BC has the highest rate of poverty in Canada. BC has recorded the highest child poverty rate for five years running. Despite years of strong economic growth and record low unemployment, over half a million British Columbians — 13 percent of the total population — live in poverty, and homelessness continues to rise. As we head into a global economic downturn, poverty risks getting worse unless action is taken.

We all pay for poverty. Study after study links poverty with poorer health, higher justice system costs, more demands on social and community services, more stress on family members, and diminished school success. Effective poverty reduction will require the efforts of all segments of society (all levels of government, the private sector, non-profits, and citizens generally), but the provincial government must take the lead.

The policies needed to make a dramatic difference are known, and other jurisdictions that are setting clear targets and timelines are getting results. A comprehensive approach needs to boost the incomes of those living in poverty, but also build the social infrastructure, public services and assets that are vital to providing a path out of poverty.

We, the undersigned, urge all provincial political parties to pledge to adopt and legislate poverty reduction targets and timelines, and commit to implementing a comprehensive action plan.

We recommend the following targets and timelines:

• Using Statistics Canada's low-income cut off after tax (LICO-AT), reduce BC's poverty rate from 13 percent to 9 percent in four years, and to 3 percent in ten years (meaning, effectively, a one third reduction within the mandate of the next government, and a 75 percent reduction within a decade).

• Ensure the poverty rate (using the LICO-AT) for children, lone-mother households, single senior women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, and recent immigrants likewise declines by 30 percent in four years, and by 75 percent in ten years, in recognition that poverty is concentrated in these populations.

• Within two years, ensure that every British Columbian has an income that reaches at least 75 percent of the poverty line (using the LICO-AT).

• Within two years, ensure no one has to sleep outside, and end all homelessness within eight years (ensuring all homeless people have good quality, appropriate housing).

In order to achieve these targets, we call upon political parties to commit, prior to the May election, to specific policy measures and concrete actions in each of the following policy action areas. Special attention should be focused on the needs of those most likely to be living in poverty (single mother households, single senior women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and mental illness, and recent immigrants and refugees).

Policy Action Areas:

1. Provide adequate and accessible income support for the non-employed.

2. Improve the earnings and working conditions of those in the low-wage workforce.

3. Improve food security for low-income individuals and families.

4. Address homelessness and adopt a comprehensive affordable housing and supportive housing plan.

5. Provide universal publicly-funded child care.

6. Enhanced support for training and education for low-income people.

7. Enhance community mental health and home support services, and expand integrated approaches to prevention and health promotion services.

There is nothing inevitable about poverty and homelessness in a society as wealthy as ours. If we commit to a bold plan, a dramatic reduction in poverty and homelessness within a few short years is a perfectly achievable goal.

Signed . . .

To read further, or to sign the petition, please see . . .

Links and sources
  Poverty Reduction in BC website

Posted: February 11, 2009

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