Poverty Reduction as a Prescription for Health

On December 12th the BC Alliance for Healthy Living held a webinar to explore the complex issue of poverty and health.

Ted Bruce, the Executive Director of Population Health for Vancouver Coastal Health, described the negative impact of low income on health. With compelling data and graphs, he illustrated how with each step lower on the income scale there is a reduction in health – and how this gradient can be seen across many measures of health, including hospitalization rates, heart disease and life expectancy. These gaps in health, attributed to inequality, are costly to the health care system – $1.2 billion per year could be saved if those in the lowest income group made it to the next level.

Sue Collard describes herself as an ordinary person, retail worker and accidental housing advocate. She gave an account of the overwhelming challenges experienced by those living in rental housing. Bed bugs, cockroaches, unaddressed sewage seepage, mold, broken-down appliances and a lack of heating were just a few of the ongoing problems she identified. Unfortunately, Sue says that many tenants fear that by demanding a livable home, they will be evicted. This is why, as Chair of the Whalley City Centre Chapter of ACORN BC, she has called for changes to current residential tenancy law and provincial enforcement mechanisms that would address landlords who fail to meet their legal obligations to maintain and repair housing. She also described how living in poverty can make people feel limited and overwhelmed by a lack of hope. ACORN BC’s work in images is available for download.

Trish Garner is the Community Organizer for the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. She gave an account of the current status of poverty in BC. She showed how the rate of poverty has grown in BC beyond the national average with the highest provincial rate overall and the second highest rate for children living in poverty. Trish explained how BC’s high level of inequality means that the average income of the top 20% in BC is 10 times higher than that of the bottom 20%. Looking at welfare rates, Trish asked us to think about how we might survive on the $610/month provided ($906 if you have a recognized disability). She encouraged us to consider adopting a provincial poverty reduction strategy – such as those adopted in every other province and territory but one. Such a strategy should include: legislated targets, like those below:

  • 1/3 reduction means about 170,000 fewer people living in poverty.
  • 1 percentage point reduction each year
  • No one has to sleep outside within 2 years
  • All homelessness eliminated within 8 years.
  • Eliminate deep poverty within 2 years. No person in BC falls more than 25% below the poverty line.

The specifics of the plan can be found here:
Download PDF


The Provincial Poverty Reduction Plan promoted by Trish’s coalition is endorsed by over 350 organizations province-wide.

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