Every day in classrooms across the province, BC teachers bear witness to the devastating impact of poverty on children’s lives.
“Every day, thousands of children come to school hungry, cold, tired, sad, and worse. It’s heartbreaking,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “Growing up in poverty undermines children’s academic success, social development, and emotional well-being in profound ways. Poverty is one of the most harmful, yet most preventable, barriers to learning.”
The 2011 Child Poverty Report Card produced by First Call, BC’s child and youth advocacy coalition, highlights the shocking fact that 137,000 BC children are growing up in poverty. For the eighth year in a row, BC has the worst after-tax child poverty rate in Canada. What’s worse, the rate is still climbing, especially among young children under age six and children of immigrants and refugees: “The child poverty rate in families that immigrated between 2001 and 2006 was an astoundingly high 49.6 percent.”
Compounding the problem, the BC government has cut the very services that immigrant and refugee students need most. Since 2002, almost 1,000 ESL specialists, counsellors, and learning assistance teachers have been cut from BC schools. In addition, school hot breakfast and lunch programs have been cut or downloaded to charities and community groups.
Lambert noted that BC is one of the wealthiest provinces in Canada, yet it is among the least willing to act on child poverty. Seven other provinces already have poverty reduction strategies in place and an eighth, Alberta, has begun tackling the issue.
“We are urging the BC Liberal government to demonstrate that its ‘families first’ agenda is more than empty rhetoric,” Lambert said. “BC children need a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines. Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes economic sense.”
Research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reveals that poverty costs British Columbia between $8 billion to $9 billion a year in terms of increased healthcare, criminal justice, and other social costs. By contrast, the cost of providing accessible quality childcare, paying fair wages, building affordable housing, and improving welfare rates is less than half as much: between $3 billion to $4 billion annually.
Better Schools for BC, the BCTF’s platform document released in March 2011, also calls for a comprehensive plan to eliminate child poverty and homelessness in our province. For more information, see: www.bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/Publications/BetterSchoolsForBC.pdf