NDP responds to minister’s letter

Mary McNeil, the minister responsible for children and families, recently defended the B.C. Liberals’ refusal to develop a plan to reduce poverty, pointing to the HST as one of the benefits her government has implemented to helping families living in poverty.

Mary McNeil, the minister responsible for children and families, recently defended the B.C. Liberals’ refusal to develop a plan to reduce poverty, pointing to the HST as one of the benefits her government has implemented to helping families living in poverty.

Really? The HST? The HST is the one thing that is costing B.C. families more. Let’s be real, this isn’t part of a plan to address poverty.

Minister McNeil goes on in her editorial to tout more numbers, defending her government’s record in addressing poverty. She says the B.C. Liberals don’t need a poverty reduction plan, which was brought forward by the New Democrats, because they are making a “tremendous amount of progress in addressing poverty in this province.”

The minister can defend her government’s record all she likes, but the reality is that under the B.C. Liberals, there are 120,000 children living in poverty, with a half million British Columbians living below the poverty line. The reality is that despite how proud Minister McNeil says she is of her government’s record and actions on poverty, our ranking as the most poverty-ridden province in the entire country hasn’t improved in over a decade. That certainly isn’t something to be proud of.

The reality is that while the B.C. Liberals have had 11 years to address poverty, B.C. still has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for seven consecutive years. Some of the most vulnerable children in B.C. are slipping through huge cracks within a patchwork system of services. And children living in poverty are especially vulnerable to long-term health problems associated with the social and economic conditions of their families.

A recent infant death review of 21 families, conducted by children’s watchdog Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, found each family struggled with deep poverty and that was the single largest risk factor in their environment. The report states, “These 21 families, now all grieving the loss of loved ones, struggled with challenges like deep poverty, mental health issues, addictions and inadequate housing. Systems that intersected in their lives failed to respond to risks to these infants’ well-being.” Of the 21 deaths, some children died from significant infections as a result of deplorable housing; living in homes that were severely moldy.

In addition to Ms. Turpel-Lafond’s report illustrating the need for a comprehensive provincial poverty reduction strategy, B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, issued a special report in September 2010 also recommending a provincial poverty reduction plan. Dr. Kendall’s report highlighted the increased health risks faced by low-income people. Yet Minister McNeil continues to dismiss the need for a poverty reduction plan, stating that her government’s actions are working.

If the B.C. Liberals under Christy Clark are serious about their “families first agenda” they would take immediate steps to alleviate the deep poverty that children and families are living in, and support a poverty reduction strategy in areas of income, housing, child care, education, training and the social determinants of health.

Claire Trevena

New Democrat critic for Children and Family Development