Can BC afford not to end poverty?
The answer comes down to the numbers and they are nothing short of staggering. The report looks at some of the direct costs of poverty, but also begins to quantify the costs associated with the challenges faced by a person living in poverty. Health care, crime and foregone productivity are each examined weighing out the state of things now and the cost to rectifying them.
On the health care end of things, the conditions associated with living in poverty ( for example insufficient housing and nutrition) increase the likelihood of chronic illness. Greater rates of chronic illness are a draw on the health care system. There are also a greater number, proportionally, of visits to the emergency room made by those who are impoverished when compared to the rest of the population. When one emergency room visit costs much more than one person’s income assistance allotment for the month, it seems obvious that some practical changes in spending would yield impressive results. If income assistance was raised to allow those currently living in poverty to maintain a higher level of subsistence many of the problems would be alleviated. This report says that this will mean reduced government spending in the long run.
Interestingly, the study suggests that one of the greatest costs to society is lost earning potential. The income that is not being earned is also not being added to the provincial economy or gross domestic product. Higher income rates among an impoverished population means that the government would be able to save on income assistance and earn in taxes. Though the report is heavily numbers based there is also an inherent shift in the way the plight of impoverished people is discussed.
The benefit of this report is that it gives anyone who won’t get on board with the idea of social change, a reason to care about improving the circumstances of the poor. It will cost $9.2 billion to do nothing and only $4 billion to develop and launch a poverty reduction plan. But, again, the report is doing more than math. It is pointing out that substandard living conditions are not the only disadvantage in poverty, that there is potential in this population to work and that potential has value.
All of this would mean a significant improvement in the standards of living of 1 in every 9 British Columbians.