It’s time for the provincial government to create a child poverty reduction plan, Rebecca Blair told Creston town council on Tuesday.
Blair, president of the Creston Valley Teachers’ Association, appeared at the regular council meeting to ask for support in pushing the child poverty issue. By the end of the meeting, she got more than she asked for.
“Ask any teacher what it’s like to see students come to school hungry,” Blair said. “Ask councillor Gadicke (an elementary school teacher). She knows.”
Blair said that teachers routinely bring food to their classrooms, that schools rely on breakfast and lunch programs, and that the work of food banks has helped the provincial government duck its responsibilities.
“We are asking you to consider encouraging our provincial government to create a comprehensive and accountable poverty plan to reduce poverty in our province,” she said.
Presenting a document that outlines the reasons for teachers’ concerns, Blair pointed out that B.C. has had the worst child poverty of any province in Canada for seven consecutive years. More than 10 per cent, or 87,000, children live in poverty, based on Statistics Canada’s after-tax low-income cut-off standards, she said.
While many children live with a single parent, Blair said even two-parent families struggle when one or both are working at or near minimum wage.
“According to research, poor children are twice as likely as non-poor children to repeat a grade, be suspended from school or drop out,” Blair said. “They are 1.3 times as likely to have a developmental delay or learning disability and require special education services.”
Investing government funds in reducing child poverty means significant savings down the road, she said.
“I suspect the Liberals will introduce a child poverty strategy during the spring election campaign,” she said, arguing that the issue should not be politicized. “I am asking you to help move awareness forward.”
Coun. Wesly Graham said that he had participated in a Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) pilot program that is being tested in several communities around the province.
Blair said the time for studies and pilots is long passed and that a province-wide strategy is needed.
Coun. Judy Gadicke thanked Blair for bringing the issue before council and made a motion to write a letter of support to the appropriate ministry. After discussion that included all councilors, the motion passed.
A second motion, to direct staff to begin work on a draft resolution to be put forward to the UBCM, also passed unanimously.
Blair presented council with a sheaf of petitions signed by teachers, parents and others at schools in the Creston Valley before she left.