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Editorial: Action needed on child poverty

First Call has compiled a list of 21 recommendations for the provincial and federal governments to combat child poverty.

First Call has compiled a list of 21 recommendations for the provincial and federal governments to combat child poverty. It’s an expensive list — most of the recommendations require increased expenditures — but failure to tackle this problem effectively would be far more costly.

According to the 2017 Child Poverty Report Card issued by First Call — the B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, one in five children in the province are living in poverty. It’s one of the highest child-poverty rates in the country, a dismal record B.C. has held for more than a decade.

It’s not about where B.C. stands in relation to other provinces, it’s about 153,000 children living in poverty, whose futures are dim, whose opportunities are scant, many of whom will be doomed to a lifetime of poverty unless something can be done to break the cycle.

Poverty isn’t just a matter of going hungry today — it closes doors on tomorrow. As much as we might relish Horatio Alger-type stories of poor children rising out of poverty to achieve success, such stories are more the exception than the rule.

Research consistently shows that poverty is linked to poor physical and mental health, domestic violence, higher crime rates and lower educational and career achievements. We like to believe we are an egalitarian society, but a child living in poverty is not on equal footing with a child who has a comfortable home, enough to eat, decent health care and the opportunity for a good education.

Helping people climb out of poverty will pay dividends; they become contributors to society, rather than enduring a lifetime of drawing on public resources.

And the time to offer that help is now. “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men,” said U.S. abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

The former B.C. Liberal government consistently balked at forming a child-poverty strategy, giving priority to economic matters on the premise that a strong economy with good employment opportunities is the best way to combat poverty. A healthy economy is a worthy goal, but that in itself will not banish poverty. Some like to say a rising tide lifts all boats, but when the tide is risen, the yachts are still yachts and the leaky little skiffs are still leaky little skiffs.

B.C.’s NDP government is in the process of forming a child-poverty strategy, and that’s commendable. But it needs to be more than talk.

And while more funding will be necessary, money alone isn’t the answer. Resources need to be intelligently used; action needs to follow plans.

Fighting child poverty is a complex challenge, requiring co-operation among multiple ministries and agencies. A plan won’t magically make poverty disappear, but it’s a necessary step in moving toward that goal.