BCHLA Hosts Poverty Reduction Webinar


On December 12th, your Keeping in Touch team attended the Poverty Reduction as a Prescription for Health webinar hosted by the BC Healthy Living Alliance. This engaging and informative eLearning experience featured three top notch speakers in the area of poverty reduction and research.

Ted Bruce, as the Executive Director of Population Health for Vancouver Coastal Healthis responsible for the development of the health authority’s strategy to address the social determinants of health and reduce health inequities. Mr. Bruce is also an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Practice in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and Adjunct Professor with the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia and Past-President of the Public Health Association of BC. 

Ted Bruce discussed health inequality between the rich and the poor and how this translates to significant and unnecessary increased costs in our health care system.

  • We have seen a gradual increase in the life expectancy rates since the 1920’s. It is a misconception to link this directly to health care improvements. In fact, social and economic factors are responsible for 50% of this increase. This also means that social and economic factors are largely responsible for the lower life expectancy rates associated with living in poverty. In some communities, the gap in life expectancy rates between the rich and the poor is as high as 8 or 9 years.
  • This gap in positive health outcomes holds true when we look at the burden of disease. As an example, children living in poverty are far more likely to require hospitalization for asthma than their peers with higher socioeconomic status.
  • Ted shared key pathways to either health or ill health:
    1. Poverty and low income
    2. Early Childhood Experiences
    3. Exclusion and Racism
  • Ted shared a TD Economics study that links early childhood education to long lasting health benefits and lower socioeconomic status to greater vulnerability.
  • There are significant health care costs associated with low socioeconomic standing.
  • Ted summarized his presentation by concluding that closing the gap between the rich and the poor directly benefits all of society.

Sue Collard describes herself as an ordinary person, retail worker, accidental housing advocate and Chair of the Whalley-City Centre Chapter of ACORN BC. Since growing up in a council house in the East End of London, she has lived in rental housing in two provinces in Canada and has experienced the increasing demonization, displacement and fragmentation of ordinary communities. For the past three years she and ACORN BC have struggled to bring light to the rationalized business strategies that allows rental housing to deteriorate to the point where it poses not only a health hazard but a “possible life safety” risk.

Sue’s heartfelt and sometimes personal presentation focused on the pervasiveness of poverty and on the “human environment of poverty”. She put forward the vivid image of living in a world of “almost, but not quite enough…”

  • Almost, but not quite enough money to finish my education.
  • Almost, but not quite enough money to fix the car.
  • Almost, but not quite enough to make it to the end of the month.
  • Almost, but not quite enough to buy the medication I need.

Sue spoke about the stress of living in poverty and the mental and physical burden that living in poverty entails.

Sue shared the Healthy Homes Campaign from ACORN Surrey. This campaign focuses on the badly needed repairs in many housing developments and a push for the City of Surrey to implement a Standard of Maintenance policy for landlords to abide by. Read more about the Healthy Homes campaign.

Trish Garner is the Community Organizer for the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and the co-author of A Poverty Reduction Plan for BC. She gained her experience working with Raise the Rates, an anti-poverty group based in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. In 2008, she co-founded the Poverty Olympics, a community festival that highlighted the disparity between public spending on the Olympics and people living in poverty. Ms. Garner will outline the potential of the Provincial Poverty Reduction Plan promoted by her coalition which is endorsed by over 350 organizations province-wide.

Trish discussed the fact that BC has the highest poverty rate in Canada, yet is one of the only provinces to not yet establish a Poverty Reduction Plan. Our redistribution system, a combination of taxes and transfers, is not working to minimize the largest gap between the rich and the poor in our country.

Trish shared success stories from both Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, where poverty reduction plans are having a profound impact on reducing poverty. In Quebec, the universal childcare system is seeing returns of $1.50 for every $1 of public money invested. Newfoundland and Labrador used to have one of the highest poverty rates in the country but are reducing this by raising income assistance levels to the poverty line and also indexing income assistance rates to the cost of living.

The Poverty Reduction Coalition calls for the following elements in a BC Plan:

  • Support for those who aren’t employed (income and disability assistance rates go up)
  • Make work pay (increase minimum wage rates to the poverty line)
  • Focus on marginalized groups
  • Deal with the housing crisis
  • Bring in universal childcare ($10 a day plan currently being proposed)
  • Train and educate (accessible post secondary education and adequate funding for K-12 education)
  • Enhance community health care

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has estimated that the provincial cost of poverty via a combination of funds spent in the health care and criminal justice systems, coupled with the lost productivity of people unable to work due to living in poverty, is 8-9 billion per year. The 7 Plan elements listed above would cost approximately 3-4 billion per year.

How can you get involved to advocate for a Poverty Reduction Plan for BC? Visit the Poverty Reduction Coalition website to join the call, email the Premiere, or join their newsletter.