Title:The cost of poverty in BC
Subject:Poverty – general
Publisher:Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC office
Public Health Association of BC
Place of Publication:Vancouver
Date of Publication:2011
Living in poverty is hard. Poverty means hunger and inadequate nutrition. It means substandard and unsafe housing, or no housing at all. It means impossible choices, like whether to pay the rent or feed the kids. It means stress and social isolation. And it takes an enormous toll on the people who experience it.
On this basis alone, most British Columbians believe that our provincial government should take action to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate poverty. And they are right. But governments often balk at the price tag associated with poverty reduction policies like investing in new social housing, increasing welfare, or implementing universal access to child care. What governments often fail to consider, however, is the large amount of resources that we spend, year after year, paying for the consequences of poverty.
This study finds that the costs of inaction are so large that they far exceed the costs of poverty reduction. Poverty is consistently linked to poor health, lower literacy, poor school performance for children, more crime, and greater stress for family members. It is society as a whole that bears the costs of poverty, through higher public health care costs, increased policing and crime costs, lost productivity, and foregone economic activity. This study quantifies these economic costs.
The bottom line is that poverty in BC represents a direct cost to government alone of $2.2 to $2.3 billion annually, or close to 6 per cent of the provincial budget. The cost to society overall is considerably higher — $8.1 to $9.2 billion, or between 4.1 per cent and 4.7 per cent of BC’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product, or the size of our economy). That is as much as $2,100 for every man, woman and child in BC, or $8,400 for a family of four, every year. In contrast, the estimated cost of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan in BC is $3 to $4 billion per year.