Carole James: B.C. needs poverty reduction plan
As the New Democrat critic for social development, I see and hear the challenges vulnerable people in our communities face each and every day. The stories I’ve heard while in this role are often heartbreaking, and they reinforce the need for a real strategy to address inequality in our province.
People who live in poverty come from many different backgrounds and experiences. A variety of circumstances, often beyond their control, have brought them to a difficult time in their lives. They work hard to survive with the resources they have. For those on income assistance that means finding a place to live, food to eat, and any other basic expenses on $610 a month. They also face the discrimination that comes from reaching out for government help.
For 10 years people on income assistance also faced an additional roadblock on the way to self-sufficiency in the form of a Liberal policy that clawed back any money they made by working from their next assistance cheque. This backwards policy, which was brought in by the Liberals in 2002 while Christy Clark was the deputy premier, actually punished people for trying to get back into the workforce.
Premier Clark finally reinstated earnings exemptions for people receiving income assistance. While this change is welcome, given the fact that B.C. was only one of two provinces in the country without these exemptions, the Liberals are only playing catch-up.
But the government also made another change—extending the waiting period for applicants needing income assistance from three weeks to five weeks. People go to income assistance as a last resort. This change will hurt people when they’re at their most vulnerable and put further strain on community organizations like shelters and food banks that will have to fill in the gaps.
New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix has been calling for the Liberal government to follow the lead of governments across the country and bring in a poverty reduction plan that examines issues like housing, childcare and education and how they contribute to reducing poverty in British Columbia. Regardless of whether the plans were brought in by Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat governments, they have been successful in tackling poverty and providing opportunities to those in need.
As part of our plan to reduce inequality, New Democrats are committing to bringing in non-repayable, needs-based student grants so that everyone has an opportunity to get the training they need to be successful in our twenty-first century economy. Right now we have people without jobs, and jobs without people—which is why we need to make investing in higher education and trades training one of our top priorities. Giving people the opportunity to improve their lives through education is good for both the individual and for society.
Addressing inequality is good for families, good for communities and good for our economy. Everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed and New Democrats are committed to improving opportunities for every British Columbian.
Carole James is the B.C. NDP critic for social development and the MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill.