YOUTH VOICE: Province hungers for a strategy

Despite repeated calls for a poverty-reduction strategy, the provincial government has not adequately addressed its citizens' needs.

In our province, families are struggling to make ends meet, despite working hard to provide for their children and loved ones.

Children are going to school on hungry stomachs.

According to First Call’s latest BC Child Poverty Report Card – citing 2013 Statistics Canada data –one-in-five live in poverty in B.C.

That’s 167,810 children.

The report also notes the high rate of child poverty in areas of Surrey.

Despite repeated calls from an all-party committee for a poverty-reduction strategy, the provincial government has not adequately addressed the needs of British Columbians.

The government’s every moment of inaction negatively affects the lives of children who are struggling to learn because they did not have breakfast, or the single mother who has to decide between putting food on the table or enroling her child in an extracurricular activity.

In the past, the government has enthusiastically announced its budget while ignoring the glaring deficiencies in its budgetary decisions.

The investment in the future of our children is the most important investment.

The children and families of our province cannot endure the hardships of poverty any longer. Unlike the premier’s office, they do not have the liberty to spend $475,015 at expensive restaurants and hotels, as was the case in 2012.

These are hardworking individuals like Amanda, cited in the report card, who only has $250 at the end of the month, after paying rental costs, to feed herself and her child. There is talented nine-year-old Mason, who would like to learn music, go on class trips and get involved in school dances.

During the 2013 election year, the government found it wise to spend $11 million on an awards show, which has failed to yield any of the significant results touted.

Our talented youth and future artists and athletes need support for arts programs, sports and extracurricular activities. Our families need support so that they do not have to endure the adversity of being in a cycle of poverty.

While the number of children living in poverty has decreased since 2000, the percentage change has not been significant. Many families and children have been left behind.

Quebec introduced a poverty-reduction strategy that drastically reduced the poverty rate. Affordable child care and practical programs and policies have been responsible for this success.

Childcare support, education funding, affordable housing and co-operation with other levels of government will help ensure success in this area. On the other hand, one-off policies can only result in limited results.

An integrated and long-term strategy and commitment, comprising a multifaceted approach to reducing poverty, will result in real and sustainable change.

While poverty-reduction strategies from other provinces may need to be adapted and tailored, it is still important to learn from their successful initiatives.

The overall child poverty rate is 20.4 per cent, and it has only decreased a minuscule 0.2 per cent from 2012 to 2013. This suggests the need for greater efforts.

Certain positive initiatives have been introduced by the government, but compared to other provinces, B.C.’s response has been weak. I urge the provincial government to announce a poverty-reduction strategy, and the federal government to begin introducing policies to end poverty.

Government budgets are meant for the welfare of the people and to address the most pressing needs of our society. A top priority should be to end poverty so that no child has to go to school hungry.

Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursuing a law degree. He writes monthly for Peace Arch News.

 

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