It has been many years now that Trish Garner, Community Organizer with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC), has been starting her presentations with a slide reading; ‘the time is now’. This was how she once again opened her remarks in our November BC Food Security Gateway Community of Practice (CoP) conversation alongside Melanie Kurrein, Manager of Food Security with Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), who spoke to a the similar issue of household food insecurity and the newly released Food Costing in BC 2017 report.
She isn’t crying wolf, as Trish explained in her opening comments,
I’ve had this slide for the 10 years that we’ve been running, but the time really is now because we are as a province developing a poverty reduction plan.
Trish is referring to October’s provincial legislation calling for the creation of a long overdue poverty reduction plan for BC. As she first shared in conversation with the Gateway nearly two years ago, BC is the last province to commit to developing a plan to improve the lives of 557,000 people living in poverty (12% of the population) which includes 1 in 5 BC children.
The plan itself is due to come out in March 2019 following a consultation period with thousands captured in What We Heard About Poverty in B.C. – a report Trish highly recommends reading for its success in hearing from those most affected by poverty from 28 communities, including a strong focus on First Nations and Métis communities.
Trish laid out a quick snapshot of the dire context and overdue need for the plan which included the facts that BC has the second highest poverty rate in Canada (and always ranks 1st or 2nd), and, boasts the highest rate of inequality in terms of the gap between rich and poor.
We were also introduced to the concept of ‘deep poverty’ referring to those living on social assistance at the rate of $710/month for welfare, or, $1133 in disability insurance with a $52 transportation supplement. In contrast to the poverty line according to the Market Basket Measure (MBM), these numbers make it irrefutable that someone could live on current social assistance rates.
There was a small increase to welfare in 2017 and several other policy steps in the right direction Trish articulated including work by the Fair Wages Commission on a living wage and a plan to increase minimum wage to $15/hour by 2021.
With the BC Poverty Reduction Plan forthcoming in addition to these policy wins, Trish put out a call to action for the food security movement to support the ABC Plan campaign to ensure the plan itself is Accountable, Bold, and Comprehensive.
ABC Plan encourages folks to e-mail or meet their MLAs, write your local newspaper, and/or ask your local council to sign on to ABC Plan Although poverty reduction largely lives in provincial jurisdiction, there is so much municipalities can do to prevent and reduce poverty and is often the level of government where food security networks, policy councils, and organizations are linked to government.
As Trish observed in our earlier conversation, “the food and anti-poverty movements are beginning to intersect in unprecedented ways.” The message from Melanie and the Food Costing in BC 2017 exemplifies this with a strong framing of the issue around food insecurity and poverty reduction and the link between the cost of food, income, and the affordability of healthy eating.
The food insecurity stats Melanie shared are unsurprisingly similar to the poverty numbers with half a million people in BC (1 in 10 households of which 1 in 6 have children) unable to afford a basic healthy diet – 65% of whom are working (similar to the stats shared by Trish).
For the 2017 report, approximately 250 stores were surveyed for the cost of 67 relatively healthy food items across the province. The findings were that the average monthly cost of a basic healthy diet has gone up by $45 for a family of four in BC from 2015-2017 to $1,019. The report further breaks down the specific costs by region. However, Melanie makes it clear that the issue isn’t the cost of food.
We want to make sure people are using this data look at it as compared to income or as part of other affordability scenarios. When Trish was talking about working upstream to save people, that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Income is a root cause of household food insecurity and that’s what we need to get at – the issue is poverty not the cost of food in BC. There are other social determinants of health at play but we’re talking about income because that’s where we can have the biggest and “quickest” impact. A family on social assistance needs to spend close to 50% of their income to access healthy food – approximately three times more than a median-earning family.
Melanie is also clear that the constellation of community food security work and programming is incredible and needed – but its impact is more felt around community connectedness, decreasing social isolation, and a more sustainable food system. This has been extensively corroborated by PROOF at the University of Toronto, among other research.
She also recognized that there are parallel food systems at play and that while the report looks at market based foods, there have been vast Indigenous foodways and systems across so-called BC that exist outside of the capitalist food market for time immemorial that are critical, but beyond the focus of the food costing work.
So how do we address household food insecurity? And what can members of the CoP and other food-based organizations do who are not necessarily in income and poverty reduction-focused work?
Come back for part two where, given what we heard from Trish and Melanie, we’ll share back some of the actions, questions, and reflections members of the CoP brought forward in the conversation.
Join the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
Sign on the ABC Plan
BC Poverty Reduction Plan
Wages and Basic Income