Trish Garner: Where’s the fanfare for tackling poverty effectively?

Connecting the dots between three political moments over three months

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      On June 16, I attended the B.C. government’s Disability Summit, the culmination of a three-month public consultation process on disability in B.C.

      I watched Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation Don McRae lead the audience through the event. I felt the flurry of excitement as Premier Christy Clark took to the stage to launch the government’s new action plan, Accessibility 2024, and then watched as she left as quickly as she had arrived. I heard business leaders talk about the benefits of meaningful inclusion. And I saw cameras and reporters focused on the front while the most important message came from protestors on the outside.

      Echoing the submissions from hundreds of community members throughout B.C., primarily individuals with disabilities, advocacy groups, and service organizations, the rally featured B.C. ACORN, the Single Mothers Alliance of B.C., and others emphasizing the importance of tackling the high rates of poverty among people with disabilities.

      There are some good things about the government’s plan. First and foremost, it is actually a plan with goals, targets, and timelines, a lead minister and cross-ministerial committee, and an annual report to provide accountability—what a novel idea for tackling a fundamental social issue, an approach that we’ve been pushing for years!

      Within the plan, income support is noted as a fundamental building block, a small recognition of the issue from the government. However, there is no concrete commitment to raise disability benefits, which have been frozen since 2007. That the government commits merely to “consider” the issue “as the fiscal situation allows” is little comfort for people with disabilities who cannot meet their basic needs on the current $906 each month. How can the government achieve the ultimate goals of the plan to make B.C. the most “accessible” and “progressive” province in Canada without addressing the deep poverty faced by so many people with disabilities?

      The central “solution” in the government’s action plan is jobs. The little money dedicated to this initiative is all directed to employment inclusion and skills training. It’s not surprising. It’s the same answer we receive when our supporters throughout the province advocate for a poverty reduction plan for B.C.

      There are two important points to make in response. First, many people with disabilities are unable to work but they still deserve to live with dignity. Second, most people in poverty already have a job so low wage employment does not provide meaningful inclusion for anyone. The emphasis must be on good, stable jobs that provide a living wage.

      While the Disability Summit was a high-profile publicity event for the government, a month before that, they quietly released a progress report on their “community poverty reduction pilot projects”. No big fanfare for the initiative launched in May 2012, which has helped only 72 families over two years, a drop in the ocean when you consider that almost 500,000 people live in poverty in B.C.

      And, by help, they mean merely referring families to existing services. The assumption is that the fundamental problem for families in poverty is an inability to navigate the system of programs, services, and supports within their communities. While there are many bureaucratic barriers that do require a certain level of language and literacy, the fundamental problem is lack of income combined with high cost of living—not a failure to access services.

      Despite recognizing that the provincial government is responsible for the implementation, support, and funding of the systemic themes identified during these pilot projects, including housing, food security, health, childcare, transportation, and education, this so-called poverty reduction project does nothing to address those issues.

      Instead, one of the actions has been to set up a food bank in Stewart. Since when did government get into the food bank business? Food banks fill the gap that government leaves, an ever-widening gap at this rate.

      Within all this disappointment is a small ray of sunshine that has the potential to turn this province around if supported by both parties. On May 6, Opposition MLA Michelle Mungall introduced a member’s bill, the Poverty Reduction and Economic Inclusion Act. Since then, the premier has received hundreds of emails and letters from organizations throughout B.C. asking her to support the proposed act.

      B.C. has had the highest poverty rate in Canada for the last 13 years and is now one of only two provinces without a poverty reduction plan. Bill M 212 includes government responsibility, targets and timelines, and strong accountability measures—features that are critical to the success of any plan, as the government has recognized in its disability action plan. However, a comprehensive poverty reduction plan would have much more impact and truly make B.C. the most “progressive” province in Canada with no one left behind.

      I’d like to see some fanfare about that!




      Jul 29, 2014 at 6:50pm

      What a wonderful article, thank you!

      I don't want to sound defeatist but with this headline in the news - ‘Preventing poverty’ not a valid goal for tax purposes, CRA tells Oxfam Canada" - I wonder how that will affect any provincial government that tries to reduce poverty.

      Insightful cartoon here -

      It is all a Gongshow.

      Jul 29, 2014 at 8:30pm

      The poor should be single-filing into the supreme courts to demand more money. I recently helped a friend get on to disability. Before he was able to get that application, he had to fill out another one--and they gave him a date to come in after he would have been evicted and without any food money for three weeks. The solution offered by the ministry? He could go to Church dinners! He could use the food bank!

      The original BC social service act actually specified that those receiving assistance should be able to lead a "reasonably normal" life. Is it "reasonably normal" to have to go to Church Dinners? To use a food bank?

      The simple fact is that BC had a Sterilization Act well before the Nazis and well before many US jurisdictions. This eugenic attitude toward the disabled/poor continues to prevail. Consider the horror of giving the poor adequate assistance: they might _breed_! They can no longer be sterilized/interned, so this is the best best thing, people, starving them and hoping that they recognize how breeding is beyond their station.

      Jesse Guidone

      Jul 30, 2014 at 10:21am

      I would love to see the premier attempt to survive on $906 a month. Maybe after she runs out of food for the month or is forced to live in sub-standard housing, she will pull her head out of her *** and realize how dire the situation is for those of us on disability.


      Jul 30, 2014 at 1:01pm

      The marginal cost of the increase in debt servicing payments under the Clark regime (33% increase in total debt in less than three full years - where are the BC Liberal fiscal responsibility apologists on that one, I wonder?) is far greater than any loss of revenue to the provincial treasury resulting from ending the child support claw backs currently in place.

      Long story short, the Clark government had the fiscal capacity in place to enact even a small program to help alleviate some suffering of the most vulnerable in society.

      Instead, the government of BC has run up the debt, which, all things being equal,squeezes operational spending budgets.

      In many cases, this debt is related to building hydro and transportation infrastructure to the north of BC, on the assumption that Clark's "debt free BC LNG" insanity might play out (and further subsidizing those sectors with taxpayer dollars).