The British Columbia government has appointed a 28-person committee to provide advice on reducing poverty as a step towards introducing legislation with targets and timelines in the spring.
“This is an incredibly diverse group we’ve brought together,” said Shane Simpson, the minister for social development and poverty reduction. “We have people with lived experience, we have First Nations, we have poverty advocates, labour and business interests, and academics ... They’ll share their expertise and insights on poverty and on related issues.”
The co-chairs for the Advisory Forum on Poverty Reduction, launched with an initial budget of $1.2 million, will be University of Northern B.C. school of social work chair Dawn Hemingway and Vancouver-Kensington NDP MLA Mable Elmore. A full list of members is available on the ministry’s website.
For several years in opposition, the NDP pressed the former Liberal government to develop a poverty reduction strategy, as every other province in Canada had already done. The government had declined to act saying that some provinces with such strategies had not succeeded in reducing poverty.
“In my view this effort is long overdue and I’m confident that we have the collective will to make sure this happens,” Hemingway said Monday morning. “As a human being and as a social worker, I firmly believe it’s a basic human right for everyone to have a good quality of life.”
Elmore talked about the people left homeless after a fire near her constituency office. “This strikes very close and it’s something I see every day in Vancouver,” she said, adding it’s important everybody has the opportunity to meet their full potential and build a good life. “Poverty is a complex problem and finding solutions is a collective responsibility.”
Simpson said nearly 700,000 British Columbians live in poverty, including 120,000 children. Some 40 per cent of people living in poverty are in families where at least one person is working, he said.
Using the market basket measure of low income, an individual would need an income of $20,000 and a family of four would need $40,000 to achieve a basic standard of living.
The government will be taking input through a website and at public meetings planned for 20 communities between November and March. “Over the next few months we’ll be doing a lot of listening,” Simpson said. “The end result of this we hope will be a complete poverty reduction strategy, next year for sure.”
The plan is to prepare the legislation in late January for introduction in the spring, but Simpson said parts of the February budget will be aimed at reducing poverty and the government is already making progress.
“The reality of poverty reduction is it’s not an issue for a single ministry,” he said, adding that the work underway on childcare, housing, fair wages and removing barriers to education all helps.
Read more: BC Politics