Victoria: It wasn’t easy for my mother to raise me and my sister and brothers by herself after our father passed away. But she worked hard, and when we got older my siblings and I went to work too.
Thanks to my mother’s determination, and the supports that the province of B.C. offered her, we made it. I got to go to university, travel to other countries, build a career and start a business, and raise a family of my own.
Every child in British Columbia should have that same opportunity, and that’s a deeply personal conviction of mine. Regardless of where they’re from or what they’ve been through, every single parent and child should be able to make it in British Columbia.
That’s not where we are today. Heartbreakingly, one out of every five children in our province lives in poverty. That’s dozens of children in every elementary school, hundreds in every high school.
In a recent report, FirstCall, the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, included many real stories among the appalling statistics of child poverty in our province.
There’s Joel, two years old, whose mother Amanda has only $250 left for the month after their rent is paid. Every penny of that goes towards food, but Amanda still openly worries about malnutrition. She searches constantly for hand-me-down clothes for Joel and relies on donated bus tickets to take him to the doctor.
There’s Mason, nine years old, who lives with two siblings and both parents. His mother works for minimum wage and his father is on disability assistance. They can’t afford to let Mason go on field trips or go to birthday parties, and they see how poverty is already separating Mason from the other children in his class. Mason’s family also worries if he’s getting enough nutrition for his body and mind to develop properly.
Across B.C. last year, 30,000 children relied on food banks. That’s almost twice as many kids as there are in the entire Delta school district.
How did we get here? “Stubbornly high child and family poverty rates,” says the coalition report, “reflect an indifference by those in positions of power and influence to the high cost of poverty to individuals, families, and society.”
New Democrats have brought forward poverty reduction legislation four times, and each time Premier Christy Clark’s government ignores it. In fact, not only does Premier Clark’s government ignore children going to school hungry, she is actually making it harder for families to lift themselves out of poverty.
Luke and Katie welcomed their third child in Maple Ridge earlier this year. But when Katie went on maternity leave from her job, every single penny she received in benefits was clawed back from Luke’s disability payments. Christy Clark’s government cut their monthly income almost in half, from $3,000 to $1,720.
I have called on Premier Clark to end this clawback of disability benefits. She refuses.
Instead, the premier has made life even harder for struggling parents. The minimum wage is still far less than a living wage, the second-lowest in Canada. Parents trying to go back to school and get a better job face hundreds of dollars in new fees, imposed by Premier Clark this year, for adult basic education.
And every year, the bills get bigger. From Hydro rates, to MSP and ICBC premiums to bridge tolls, the price of just getting through the day continues to rise.
The price of Premier Clark’s failure to confront child poverty is paid by all of us. We know that kids who grow up hungry and without opportunities are far more like to appear in our hospitals, our courts and our jails. Young people growing up in desperate circumstances are far more vulnerable to being exploited or recruited by gangs.
Today, in one of the most peaceful and prosperous places on Earth, there are families who aren’t going to make it. There are children who won’t get to graduate from high school, pursue a career and break the cycle of poverty. Even beyond all the scandals and dishonesty of the Christy Clark era, the real moral crisis of her government is her indifference the parents and children slipping into destitution.
I know we can do better. The government can’t solve every problem, but it can help, and at the very least it can get out of the way. I believe in a British Columbia where hard work is valued and rewarded. I believe in a British Columbia where every parent can build a better life for their child. In that British Columbia, we’re all richer.