According to Seth Klein, Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), overcoming poverty is not impossible – it’s not even that difficult. We just have to have the political will to act on it.
The Poverty Reduction/Living Wage Summit, organized jointly by the Poverty Reduction Coalition of BC and the Living Wage for Families Campaign, was all about collective political will. The meetings brought together almost 100 engaged community partners from across BC, all concerned with improving policies that affect people living in poverty.
The summit was more than just a forum for like-minded people to brainstorm ideas and preach to the already-converted. It was a highly instructive and collaborative effort designed to strengthen relationships, share ideas, increase capacity, and build momentum for poverty reduction and living wage initiatives. Participants learned the most effective ways to raise awareness, communicate, engage their communities, identify target audiences, lobby governments, and run successful campaigns.
Poverty is Political
Poverty is a complex social issue that encompasses more than simply a lack of money. It is the lack (or the denial) of economic, social, and cultural resources people need in order to have a decent quality of life and meaningful (economic, social and political) participation in the community.
Poverty equates to a distinct lack of power, political influence, media control, decision-making, and the ability to save money and create wealth. Wealth inequality leads to social dysfunction, increased health and safety problems, and higher rates of crime, domestic violence, illiteracy, teen pregnancy, and discrimination of all kinds (racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, and so on).
Poverty is a serious social and political concern and a key election issue for the upcoming provincial election. As such, the Summit focused upon skill-building, leadership development, and issued a call for collective political action (aka change in government) in order to bring about much-needed policy changes.
Poverty and Wealth Inequality in BC: Some Facts and Figures
- BC has the highest cost of living in Canada;
- BC has the greatest gaps between rich and poor: 1% of people hold 75% of the wealth
- BC has the second highest rate of poverty in the country: 451,000 BC residents are currently living below the LICO (1 in 10);
- BC has the second highest rate of child poverty in the country – 1 in 5 (20%). That’s 167,810 children living in poverty, with thousands more whose parents are just barely above the poverty line;
- Child poverty rates for children from marginalized groups is much higher: First Nations children 48%, other aboriginal children 28%, recent immigrants 34%, and visible minorities 22%;
- 33% of BC children living in poverty are vulnerable or not meeting developmental milestones. This has life-long consequences; * See the 2015 child poverty report card;
- BC has serious crises in housing availability / affordability and homelessness. Low housing availability drives up the cost of shelter and creates problems such as an increase in discrimination of all types and women being unable to leave abusive situations.
- Waitlists for BC Housing (subsidized units) remain over two years long. And although the BC Liberal government insists that thousands of private market housing units are available for $375 per month, current data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) states otherwise;
- Most of the poor are working;
- BC has the highest percentage of working poor in the country. The BC Liberals “jobs plan” has created a very low-wage work force with the lowest minimum wage in the country (recently increased to $10.85 per hour, $9.60 per hour for liquor servers);
- Privatization, contracting out, and the exploitation of temporary foreign migrant workers drives wages down and forces people to go on social assistance or take a second job (leading to negative health impacts and the fracturing of families)
- 1 in 3 poor children lives in a household where at least one adult works full time;
- Half of all single parent households are living in poverty, 80% of which are households headed by women (poverty is gendered);
- The average annual cost of child care for a toddler in British Columbia (2012) was $9,900. That’s double the $5,015 average cost of university tuition fees (2012/13). By contrast, the province of Quebec boasts a successful $7 a day flat rate child care program and tuition in Quebec is also more affordable: an average of $2,774 in 2012/13 for undergraduate tuition.
- Income assistance rates remain dramatically below the most conservative poverty measures.
- Welfare rates have not increased since 1997: $610 per month ($375 of which is allotted for shelter). And while social assistance rates for persons with designated disabilities recently increased by $77 per month, $52 per month (and $48 annually) was clawed back to cover a ‘transportation subsidy’ that had previously been included in monthly benefits. Meanwhile, the cost of living has risen an average of 20% (cross-Canada) during the same time period.
Income Assistance Rate Table
|The asterisk indicates the most recent rate table changes|
|Key||Effective April 1, 2007, rates for:|
|A||Employable singles, couples, and two-parent families where all adults are under 65 years of age.|
|B||Singles, couples, and two-parent families where all adults meet the Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers (PPMB) criteria and all are under 65.|
|C||Employable one-parent families where the parent is under 65.|
|D||Singles, couples, and two-parent families where one adult is aged 65 years or older.|
|E||Couples and two-parent families where both adults are aged 65 years or older.|
|F||One-parent families where the parent is aged 65 or older.|
|G||One-parent families where the parent meets the Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers (PPMB) criteria and is under 65.|
|H||*Couples and two-parent families where one adult meets the PPMB criteria and all are under 65.|
*Note: The $375/month shelter allotment is included in the basic monthly calculation – not in addition to basic benefits.
- 40-60% of people on welfare and disability pensions are living below the poverty line;
- The “breadth of poverty” includes all people living in poverty, not just those on social assistance (welfare, disability, OAS, EI). 75% of people living in poverty are non-senior adults (61% between 40 and 60 years). The rest are seniors and children.
BC is the ONLY province without a poverty reduction strategy or a plan for universal child care
The Cost of Poverty in BC
According to the CCPA, the cost of poverty in BC is $8-9 billion per year not including lost potential. The cost of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan (including investments into health care, education, the justice system, increases in social assistance rates, job creation, affordable housing, etc. would cost about half as much at approximately $3-4 billion per year.
It would only take $5.8 billion to bring everyone living below the poverty line in BC to above it. This is only 2.6% of BC’s GDP ($230 billion).
Poverty costs us all:
- Additional $1.2 billion per year for health care (mental and physical)
- Crime, $745 million per year
- Lost income, lost potential costs $7.3-$9 billion per year.
The bottom line is that we cannot afford poverty, and surveys show that 78% of British Columbians want a poverty reduction strategy.
So, What Would a Comprehensive Poverty Reduction Plan Include?
- A living wage (beginning with increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour)
- Job creation (ethical, sustainable, environmentally conscious, living wage)
- Substantial increases to social assistance and disability rates
- Affordable, appropriate, safe housing (new construction and renovations)
- Universal, affordable, quality child care
- Increased funding for health care and education (K-12 and post-secondary)
- Elimination of MSP premiums
- Vision and dental care included in MSP
- Enhanced, affordable public transportation
- A strong focus on the needs of marginalized people
What is a Living Wage?
The idea of a Living Wage is not new. The movement began at the turn of the century with a campaign for 8-hour work days (based on the “8 hours work / 8 hours sleep / 8 hours for what we will” model). Low wages, however, have increased the number of hours we must work just to survive, while reducing the number of hours we can sleep, let alone do “what we will.”
The Living Wage Policy is a practical tool for reducing poverty by engaging all sectors of the community in actions that will increase the number of families making a living wage, and certifying a critical mass of employers who pay a living wage (and who also ensure that their contractors are paying a living wage).
Living wage rates are calculated annually based on cost of living (inflation), and are designed to reflect what two working parents with two young children would need to earn in order to cover basic expenses including rent, child care, food, and transportation (after taxes, credits, deductions and subsidies have been applied). Some problems in trying to calculate an accurate living wage include the fact that we are experiencing a combination of cost of living policy failures such as MSP payments, lack of affordable housing, no universal child care, and so on.
In Kamloops, the current living wage has been calculated at $17.21 per hour, down 74 cents from 2014. This reduction is a direct result of the federal government increasing the child tax benefit. Maximum benefit amounts (for families earning less than $30,000 per year) are $533 per month for each child under the age of six, $450 per month for each child aged 6 to 17, and an additional $2,730 per year if your child qualifies for the disability amount. As household income goes up, benefits go down accordingly. It seems that families could live better by consistently earning decent wages rather than having to rely on fixed monthly or yearly tax benefits which could be discontinued at any time.
One of the challenges to employers who wish to implement a living wage policy is that there may not be a recent calculation. This is where measures such as stepped implementation and allowances for certain exemptions might be used for large employers in the interim (ie: begin with a $15/hour minimum wage, fair wage policy in which contractors earn the same rate as unionized workers for equal work, and adopt a local procurement policy).
Another barrier for large employers is multiple wage rates (different rates for different regions). Adverse effects of a universal / non-regionalized living wage include a type of ‘brain drain,’ in which workers relocate from lower living wage areas to higher ones. This does not take certain costs like transportation and housing into account and points to the need for regional wage rates instead of a universal rate. Regional living wage rates are more realistic and can help promote equity.
A living wage policy as part of a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy is a provincial election issue; and in order for campaigns to be successful they must engage municipalities, health authorities, and school districts as well as businesses that are influential in the community. Living wage municipalities and employers can then be used as models and advocates for decent wages and safe, stable work.
Some steps for running a successful Living Wage Campaign:
Get municipalities on board, otherwise the campaign is not likely to be successful. Appeal to council and staff; use their interests to engage them. “Adopt” a councillor. Don’t bring forward a motion until you are fairly confident it will pass (do it right the first time). A failed motion makes your campaign difficult-to-impossible.
Step 1: Lobby council and staff, educate (use New West model), be confident, bring in expertise;
Step 2: Request report from staff on the implications of a living wage policy. Allow time for decision-making;
Step 3: Assume the report won’t be positive and work to support council in asking questions;
Step 4: Optional – Request another staff report (via motion);
Step 5: Pass a living wage policy, get certification;
Step 6: Celebrate
*Labour Councils are vital to campaigns because they endorse candidates who support a living wage policy, providing mapping. This information needs to be shared among the coalition.
Create a campaign messaging by developing a message box. A message box is a set of statements you want to see and hear repeated in the media over and over again:
- a) Us on us
- b) Them on them
- c) Them on us
- d) Us on them
Use the “us on us” (what we’re doing and why it’s important) to create the primary message(s) in your campaign. ie: HEU’s Care Can’t Wait campaign. “There are 1500 care aides in the province, more than half have no time to meet patient needs. 4 out of 5 care homes are understaffed.” The campaign slogan / tag line / catch phrase comes from brainstorming facts in “us on us”.
Steps to creating “us on us” message:
F Frame the issue
R Reframe the opponent’s story (them on them) and Reinforce your own (us on us)
A Accessible to audiences
M Memes, make it memorable
S Short and simple
- Decide on the goal of the campaign and intended audiences before choosing key slogan;
- Ideas can then be focus-group tested, and the message can be made more impactful by using members’ faces and voices;
- Include human interest stories whenever possible to generate emotion and reinforce the point of the campaign;
- Use social media (with caution and respect). *New media is more about engaging than imposing/dumping information on audiences; tool for mobilizing, dealing with negative press, etc.
- Social media messages should be short and simple: 80 words or less, positive only. Be specific, not vague *Include an “ask” – ask people to like, share, and tag.
- Take good photos and share the best. Use video – periscope, Twitter, Facebook Live
- Free graphic design program for infographics: Canva.com
Jobs (or Lack Thereof…)
The BC Liberals Jobs Plan is failing British Columbians. Newly created jobs have been primarily temporary, part-time, precarious positions in numbers that have not kept up with BC’s growing population. The Jobs Plan was supposed to stimulate private sector job creation, but the private sector actually lost 12,000 jobs in the first 10 months of 2013. It’s very rare for the private sector to shed jobs outside of a recession. In the last 40 years in B.C., it has happened only once, in 2001, and then only about 2,700 jobs were lost.
Virtually all the recent job growth has been in the Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island, driven by the housing boom. In contrast, there has been no job growth this year in the regions that were specifically promised jobs courtesy of the ‘LNG pipe dream.’
Rather than desperately looking to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and other environmentally risky or minimally processed natural resources as the province’s panacea, a viable job-creation plan should be strategically linked to our most pressing collective challenges:
- climate change;
- inequality (in both income and regional);
- the erosion of tax fairness;
- the affordability crises in housing and child care
Seth Klein states that tens of thousands of new, green, sustainable jobs could be created in the renewable energy sector through:
- A major buildings retrofit program (where public, commercial and residential buildings and homes are renovated to maximize energy efficiency and conservation);
- New investments in renewable electricity generation (solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy), and renewable neighbourhood energy utilities;
- Large-scale investments in public transit and high-speed rail; and
- Climate adaptation infrastructure (such as sewer and dike upgrades).
Forestry could be revitalized through reforestation, value-added manufacturing, and the processing of diverted wood waste and raw logs – potentially creating over 20,000 new jobs.
Building social and co-op housing at the rate of 10,000 units per year could yield well over 16,000 direct jobs in construction per year, plus another 12,250 indirect jobs (based on current construction employment calculations).
Implementing a universal child care program would create approximately 8,000 new jobs for child care workers and allow about 40,000 women to enter or re-enter the paid labour force. These estimates don’t include the creation of construction jobs for building new child care spaces, or indirect jobs in related services such as supplies and food. Nor do they include about another 8,000 existing child care jobs where workers in the informal sector move into the public regulated child care sector. This shift would not increase the number of jobs, but these workers will see an improvement in their education, wages, benefits and job stability.
These public investments can be paid for through fair taxation, carbon taxes and regular infrastructure funding, and such a jobs plan would reach every corner of BC, make a substantial difference in people’s lives, and promote equality.
Bolster Local Campaigns through Highlighting Models of Success
- Poverty reduction strategies in Newfoundland and Labrador have lifted 11,000 people out poverty.
- In New Brunswick, 25,000 have been lifted out of poverty and dental care for all children is now covered by MSP
- Quebec’s $7/day child care plan has enabled 70,000 women to enter or re-enter the workforce (an increase of women’s participation in paid labour of 3.8%) and is paying for itself. The program also created 8,000 new jobs in child care and construction. Quebec’s GDP increased by 1.7% (approximately $5 billion) as a result of the program.
The poverty rate among seniors is down slightly due to policy changes around CPP, OAS, low income supplement, etc.
In the budget announced Feb. 17th – after months of pressure from single parents, advocates and the opposition NDP – the government reversed the policy that stopped families headed by a single parent from keeping any child support payments from the non-custodial parent. Support payments were subtracted dollar for dollar from the family’s monthly welfare cheque. This poverty-creating policy had been taking $13 million away from 6,000 of BC’s poorest kids every year under the BC Liberals simply because their single parents received income assistance or disability.
Any of us could slip into deep poverty at any time, but the elimination of poverty is achievable where there is political will.
We need a comprehensive poverty reduction plan now – for all of us, especially for the 167,810 children who deserve better. We all deserve better, and a change in government will help BC to do better.
Submitted by Harmony Ráine
Kamloops and District Labour Council