What will candidates do about poverty?

Many of those who fall below the poverty line are the working poor and their children.

British Columbia has the second highest poverty rate in the country, and many of those who fall below the poverty line are the working poor and their children.

With a slate of candidates now announced in the Cowichan Valley from the major parties that will vie for a seat in the legislation in May’s provincial election, here’s one issue we’d like to see front and centre during the campaign.

This most recent poverty information comes from a report co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the United Way of the Lower Mainland and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.

So just how many people are poor in our historically rich province?

According to the report, the number is a whopping 13.2 per cent. That’s huge.

Food bank use is on the rise, as is homelessness.

Everyone on social assistance is below the poverty line by thousands and thousands of dollars every year.

And while it’s easy to dismiss these folks with a quick “get a job”, the reality is not so simple.

There will always be some people who abuse any system, but we have social assistance for very good reasons.

There are those who cannot work, for a variety of reasons. Some are disabled, some are drug addicted, some suffer from mental illness. Some have just fallen on hard times — as can happen to anyone.

Most of us do not like to think it can happen to us and are so uncomfortable with the idea that we turn our heads away, saying these folks must have done something to deserve their fate. But such is not the case. A great many of us are one paycheque or illness away from poverty. To know that our social safety net is so inadequate, even as costs for housing, hydro, food and childcare continue to climb, is a terrible and sad reality.

And then there are the thousands who actually have a job, or two or three jobs, and are still below the poverty line.

Full-time minimum wage workers fall into this category.

In fact, the report tells us that such an individual makes $3,500 a year less than the poverty line for a single person.

So they’ve got a job. Now what?

Clearly job quality, minimum wage, and social assistance are all issues that must be on the table as we approach the election.

We must ask each of our candidates what their view of such things is and what their plans are to solve these pernicious problems. Because the status quo is clearly unacceptable for any enlightened nation.