Bridge the Health Gap with a Path Out of Poverty

Poverty is the main issue that must be addressed to improve the health of Canadians and eliminate health inequities

What is one of the main determinants for a long and healthy life? Genetics? Sure, they’re helpful. Eating right, getting enough physical activity and not smoking? Check, check and check. But for many Canadians the most significant contributing factor to ill health is poverty. And childhood poverty affects development and health outcomes throughout the life course and can lead in many cases to increased risk of early mortality.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), in their report, ‘What Makes Us Sick?’ stated that, “poverty is the main issue that must be addressed to improve the health of Canadians and eliminate health inequities”. Because poverty affects a person’s chances of being healthy. BC families are living on low incomes and BC’s poverty rate for children under 6 years at 20.7 percent is 8 percentage points higher than the Canadian average – these British Columbian families need a targeted poverty reduction plan.

BC Alliance for Healthy Living has been a proponent of a Poverty Reduction Strategy for BC for many years. Our members see the need to address the health gap in order to reduce the rates of chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers.

And according to a poll we undertook, 78% of British Columbians think it is important for political leaders in BC to address poverty with a provincial poverty reduction plan with clear targets and timelines.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development has community poverty reduction pilot projects with 72 families in 9 communities. It will be interesting to see the results and what can be achieved by helping families better access existing services.

MLA, Michelle Mungall has put forward a private member’s Bill proposing a BC Poverty Reduction and Economic Inclusion Act that would see the creation of a poverty reduction plan, and the setting of targets to address poverty. BC is one of only two provinces without a plan to address childhood poverty.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives quotes the costs of poverty – and they are high:

…in relation to the costs of poverty, the costs of healthcare alone in relation to poverty are 1.2 billion dollars per year. Adding criminal justice costs and lost productivity gives a grand total of 8-9 billion dollars per year. A comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, including building affordable housing and providing universal childcare, would cost approximately half that at 3-4 billion dollars per year.

BC cannot afford to be the last to act on this – we need to address poverty directly through a comprehensive strategy with targets and timelines. Delaying action costs not only the families living in poverty but all British Columbians.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications
May 2014

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