Cost of Poverty in BC: Huge Human Suffering and at least $4 Billion

Poverty in BC is the worst in Canada with 1 in 9 people in poverty and 1 in 5 children under the age of 6 living in poverty. BC also has the worst inequality gap between the richest and poorest 20% of the population. Poverty and inequality cause immense human suffering and harms individuals, families and society.

Rather than waste billions of dollars and damaging people’s lives, good policy would be to invest now to save money – like doing good and prompt maintenance rather than waiting for something to break down. Ending poverty makes sound financial and social sense. It would make BC a fairer province.

On Tuesday, June 26, over 130 people crowded into a meeting to discuss the Cost of Poverty in BC, which was hosted by Raise the Rates. A panel of experts, both from life and research, movingly outlined some of the many costs.

Harold Lavender, a person living on disability, explained that because of poverty he cannot lead a healthy life and doesn’t function properly. He relies on subsidized housing to survive and lives with the constant worry of losing his home.

Colleen Boudreau, a mother on disability, outlined the constant struggle and stress of raising children while living in poverty. Lack of money is a source of constant stress. One absurdity is that the government gives more money to foster parents than to biological parents – why does the government have polices that break up families?

Carol Martin, an Aboriginal women working with the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, talked about the toll poverty takes on women, children and men. Poor people have a constant struggle to get by – it takes so much time and effort just to survive. Too many funerals are one of the costs.

Charan Gill, of Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society, described how poverty robs people of their dignity. He has worked to improve farm workers conditions for years. They produce our food yet have the worst jobs, earning $4-5 an hour and suffer high death rates.

Fraser Stuart, living on welfare, pointed out that the rapid rise of poverty in Greece has caused increased drug addiction, suicide, violence and prostitution – the same results that BC’s poverty policy has caused. He wants to work but needs to do training that costs $1,600, and the welfare rules prevent him from having the money for the course so he is stuck on welfare.

Robin Loxton, with the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities, outlined how the government’s closure of welfare offices means that people need to have a phone and be able to use a computer to contact welfare. He described how a man, injured at work, applying for disability had to answer 91 questions on-line and then was told he would have to wait several weeks and then he only might get approved. Meanwhile his health is suffering and he may become homeless.

Colleen McGuire, author of the Cost of Eating in BC, stated that the cost of basic healthy food in BC is more than all the money allowed for subsistence, which is also supposed to cover clothes, hygiene, transport, etc. So a person on welfare cannot have a healthy diet. This leads to malnourishment and ill health. In children this causes life-long damage to their physical, mental and emotional development. The government’s policies force people to lose their dignity and rely on charity.

Ted Bruce, an expert on public health, pointed out the many health costs of poverty. Poor people have heart disease rates three times higher than average and die 10 years younger. Poor people end up in hospital twice as often as the average which drives up heath cost. Poverty makes people less productive. The health costs of poverty cannot be solved by the health care system, it needs social change.

Adrienne Montani of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, outlined how the costs of poverty are there even before a child is born, they suffer from the stress and poor diet of their mother while in the womb. This will impact them the rest of their lives. While growing up children in poverty are excluded as art, sport, trips, etc all cost money – even in school. Their skills and confidence are damaged. As they grow up they are more at risk for crime and prostitution. Stress causes the body to release chemicals that attack calcium and damage teeth causing more cavities. Poor parents often work 2 or 3 jobs so suffer time poverty. Poverty is toxic to children.

Iglika Ivanova, an economist with CCPA, looked at the money costs of poverty. These costs include the extra burden on the health system, educational failings, the expenditure of charities, crime and policing, social services and other support for poor people, and the lost economic opportunities due to poverty. A modest estimate is that poverty costs the people of BC $8-9 billion a year. That is $2,100 for every person in BC.

Seth Klein, Director of CCPA BC, outlined the cruel ironies of the welfare system including: not paying for training for people on welfare, paying more for foster care than helping biological parents, increased health costs due to poverty, and it is impossible to live on welfare. The present system forces people to make choices that are harmful to them and society. Women are often forced back into abusive relations due to poverty – even to the extent of ending up in hospital due to abuse. The system makes people homeless. To raise all people in BC up to the poverty line would cost $2.4 billion. To build 2,000 homes a year would cost $500 million, less than the cost of one roof on BC Place or less than half the cost of security for the winter Olympics.

The total package of raising income, providing universal child care, building houses, etc would cost around $4 billion dollars which is half the cost of poverty.  Ending poverty in BC is sound economic policy and good social policy; it would make BC a better place to live and a province to be proud of.

The meeting also saw the world premiere of the 610 Diet video. This will be available to the public soon.