MLA Report: April 2012

There is a lot of work to be done to support citizens and create a more equal society, and I’m honoured to take on my new role as the Opposition Critic for Social Development. Poverty and inequality are huge issues in British Columbia, and getting more urgent every year.

The numbers tell the story: Food Banks Canada reported in 2011 that 31% of food bank users in B.C. were children. The cost of living just keeps going up, putting more pressure on families.

Just last month, hydro rates increased by more than 7%, or $70 per year for the average residential customer. Ferry fares are going up – again -- by more than 4%. On January 1st, Medical Services Plan premiums jumped by 6% for the third year in a row, and are scheduled to go up another 4% next January. At that point, a B.C. family will be paying 85% more in premiums than they did in 2001. Over the same period, the cost of tuition has more than doubled.

It all adds up to more financial hardship, particularly for middle class working families, and lower income citizens. They are least able to pay all these increased fees and premium hikes.

No wonder, then, that British Columbia has the largest gap between the highest and lowest wage earners, according to BC Stats. Economic and social inequality is one of the defining issues of our time. Reducing its prevalence and bridging the divisions and disparity it is creating in B.C. must be a central priority for government.

There’s considerable research that shows the wide-ranging effects of inequality. It worsens physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and children’s well-being.

More equal societies work better for everyone.

People in more equal societies live longer and use the health care system less. Children do better in school. Greater equality means less crime, reducing demands on the justice system. Studies show that everyone benefits, including those at the top end of the socio-economic range.

It’s long past time for government to get to work to address inequality in our province. There is no quick fix, or one solution to this problem, but that should not prevent us from getting started.

Programs that facilitate employment and income assistance must be focused on helping people break the cycle of poverty. We need a province-wide poverty plan, with real measurable targets and goals, and reporting to ensure accountability. Affordability and resources for education and skills training must be a priority, as they are key to opportunity and equality.

British Columbia is an extraordinary province. We can, and must, do better to ensure that everyone has ready access to the best opportunities.