This Vancouver Sun front page headline says it all: “Kids on Salt Spring Island not immune to poverty and hunger.” (December 26th, 2016, http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/kids-on-idyllic-salt-spring-island-not-immune-to-poverty-and-hunger?__lsa=fc49-3e21).
Despite the idyllic setting and ritzy homes, childhood hunger “ is getting worse every year” on the island.
What has been called the silent but steady climb of childhood hunger is now increasingly a matter of public record and concern, with the province, sadly, opting out of doing anything about it.
Over a decade ago, a Vancouver consultant in a submission to Victoria noted that childhood poverty across the province hovered around 10%. Tellingly, the Ministry of Education insisted that this figure be deleted from the report.
Did you know that BC leads the country in child poverty? According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report Long Overdue: Why BC Needs a Poverty Reduction Plan,
(https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/long-overdue), there are 33,000 hungry kids using BC’s 90 plus food banks. This year, food banks, both urban and rural, are hard pressed to meet the needs of their growing clientele.
Salt Spring Island is not the only ostensibly upscale location with impoverished kids. Last year the Sun pointed to a northeast Vancouver elementary school, in a middle- class area, with a growing number of hungry kids.
The Vancouver Adopt- a-School initiative has literally been a life–saver for many struggling schools across the Lower Mainland and beyond.
It should be noted that 30% of rural food bank clients are children, which, according to one report, is 10% more than urban banks. Rural schools in areas with high unemployment and fewer community resources are left on their own. Recently the province’s largest school district, Surrey, has applied for a $100,000 grant, thus providing additional evidence of the spreading stain of hunger.
Today BC lacks any kind of formal, articulated provincial child poverty plan and the province has no stated intention of developing one, unlike other jurisdictions.
As far as childhood hunger is concerned, the province’s ruling party, after 14 years in power, seems more than willing to let our struggling public schools depend on local fundraising and especially on the kindness of strangers.
All kinds of community groups have stepped up to the plate to fill the growing gap – these range from church, business, and service groups (Salt Spring Island Kiwanis is yet another example), private school kids, sports groups, individual philanthropists, and the list of kind-hearted folks goes on and on.
The influential right wing of the coalition that forms the current provincial Liberal party appears to be strongly adverse to providing any form of relief or intervention, be it breakfast or lunch programs, to our struggling public schools.
With a provincial election in May, the child poverty issue may be a two-edged sword for the BC Liberals. Public opinion could swing against the party’s firmly entrenched hard-line stand (not once has a single Liberal cabinet member or MLA publicly mentioned the words “hungry kids“ in the past decade,). As battle lines are drawn, public awareness will increase and the emerging controversy could hit the Liberals hard. Recall the adverse impact that the “Maggie Thatcher, the milk – snatcher” campaign had on the UK’s right- wing Tories!
As Premier Christy Clark and her Liberal MLA’s sit down to divvy up their massive $2.2 billion provincial surplus, they would do well to consider the searing impact of the axiom: hungry kids don’t learn, before they face the BC electorate.
Noel Herron is a former inner city principal and VSB trustee. An earlier version of this posting appeared in article form in Post Script: The Magazine for Retired Educators Spring 2017.
Welcome to the PENS Blog on public education! Our bloggers include parents, teachers, education researchers, and other strong supporters of public education in BC and in Canada. Taking the lead is Bill Bruneau, Professor Emeritus UBC, ex-Vancouver School Board trustee, ex-President of his faculty association, and ex-president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.