Poverty in B.C. costs plenty

By Lorraine Forster, July 14, 2011

More people live in poverty in British Columbia than in any other province in the country.

Vancouver — 

Poverty in British Columbia comes with a high price tag, according to a recent study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the Public Health Association of BC (PHABC) and the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC).

The study revealed poverty in B.C. costs $8- to $9-billion annually.

Calculations were based on the price of healthcare, lost productivity and justice, including policing and crime costs. This is the first time a study taking this approach has been done in the province.

"The idea of quantifying the cost of poverty to society as a whole is fairly recent," said economist Iglika Ivanova.

In a media briefing Ivanova, author of the study, said no one should have to suffer hunger or homelessness in a wealthy province like B.C.

“On this basis alone we must do better in addressing poverty," said Ivanova. "In light of the high costs of inaction, investing in poverty reduction is the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

The report states poverty in B.C. represents a direct cost to government alone of $2.2 to $2.3 billion annually, or close to six per cent of the provincial budget.

The study does not include the future costs of child poverty to the province, said Lorraine Copas, executive director of SPARC. She said the 90,000 children currently living in poverty in B.C. will undoubtedly create future costs through the use of social services and lost productivity.

Seth Kline, spokesperson for CCPA, said this report has been the missing link for getting government to take action on poverty in British Columbia, where more people live in poverty than in any other province in the country.

The poverty rate in B.C. as a whole is at 12 per cent.

"Among First Nations the rate is 29 per cent," said Ted Bruce, president of the PHABC.

The CCPA hopes the report will prompt the current government to take action. News of the report has been sent to all MLAs in the province.

"I think it will create some buzz in government and in policy circles," said Kline. “To have a report that makes a strong economic case helps take it to a new level.”

Kline said there is a challenge as the return on investment in reducing poverty is long term.

"It's past the government's current mandate."

A brief look at the study in more detail can be found in a short film on youtube at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pd_nkCi-pVo

This study was funded by the VanDusen Foundation and the Honos Foundation with support from the Vancouver Foundation.