November 25, 2016
Dear Members of the Legislative Assembly,
Yesterday First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition released the 2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card. Campaign 2000 also released the national child poverty report card which can be accessed, along with reports from other provinces, here. Today we are sending our report to all of British Columbia’s federal and provincial elected representatives.
At 19.8% (1 in 5 children), BC’s child poverty rate is higher than the Canadian average of 18.5% and represents 163,260 children, larger than the population of Abbotsford, the province’s fourth largest city. Using the most recent data from 2014, more than half (50.3%) of all children living in lone-parent families, the vast majority of them single mother families, were living in poverty, compared to 12.4% for children in couple families.
Other key findings in the report include:
- Between 2013 and 2014, BC’s child poverty rate decreased very slightly from 20.4% to 19.8%. However, since the passage of the 1989 House of Commons all-party resolution to eliminate child poverty in Canada by the year 2000, BC’s child poverty rate has risen from 15.5% to 19.8% in 2014.
- 22 out of BC’s 29 regional districts had at least 1,000 children living in poverty. The highest rate was found in the Central Coast Regional District, with a 52% child poverty rate.
- Over half (51%) of BC’s poor children lived in Metro Vancouver in 2014 (82,960 children).
- Contrary to popular belief, the majority of poor children have parents in paid work. Poor families with one or two children in BC in 2014 had median incomes between $10,000 and $12,000 below the poverty line.
- Between 2007 and 2014 in Metro Vancouver, the 18% increase in family expenses vastly outpaced the 10% increase in family incomes, according to Living Wage for Families Campaign calculations. Child care costs alone rose by 35% and rent by 26%.
- Adjusted for inflation, welfare incomes for a couple with two children decreased from $23,328 in 1989 to $21,924 in 2014, for a loss of $1,404 in annual income.
- 1,000 youth age out of government care in BC each year and 40% of the province’s homeless youth have been in government care at some point in their lives.
- New 2014 data show BC to be the most unequal of all provinces. The average income of the top 10% of families was 13 times the income of the bottom 10%.
- In 2014, the richest 10% of BC families received 27% of the total income, while the poorest half of families shared only 25%.
The report proposes a range of solutions that fall within the scope of both provincial and federal government policies. These are all proposals that have strong support within our broad, cross-sectoral coalition and among the general public. Many of them have been echoed in the recommendations made in recent reports on budget consultations from the Legislature’s Finance Committee.
We urge government to act on the provincial recommendations included in the 2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card. First Call’s overarching recommendation is for the provincial government to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines and a cabinet minister with the authority and responsibility to ensure government is achieving its targets on time. We recommend the plan contain a goal to reduce BC’s child poverty rate to 7% or lower by 2020.
Recognizing that children of recent immigrants and refugees, Indigenous children, children of female lone-parent families, children in racialized families, children with a disability and youth aging out foster care are at greater risk of living in poverty, efforts should also be targeted to achieve major reductions in poverty levels for these populations.
There are many actions that the provincial government can take to achieve this poverty reduction goal:
- The provincial government should raise the minimum wage to make sure that the lowest paid workers earn more than a poverty wage if they work full time, full year. The minimum wage should rise to $15 an hour as soon as possible and be indexed annually to the cost of living. All workers in BC should be covered by this minimum wage.
- Governments at all levels should ensure their direct and contract employees are paid a living wage that allows them to meet their basic needs, properly support their children and avoid chronic financial stress.
- The provincial government should significantly raise income and disability assistance rates to bring them in line with actual living expenses and index them to inflation. The government should bring back the $45-per-year bus pass and Special Transportation Subsidy for people with disabilities and introduce a rural transportation subsidy for those living outside the areas where these programs operate.
- The provincial government should expand the post-secondary program options eligible for support under the Single Parent Employment Initiative and, in the absence of enhancements to BC’s refundable post-secondary grants, allow all those on income assistance to retain benefits while attending a post-secondary institution.
- The provincial government should redesign the BC Early Childhood Tax Benefit into a BC Child Benefit covering children under 18 and double the maximum benefit to $1,320 per child per year.
- Guided by the calls to action in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the rulings of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the federal and provincial governments should immediately increase funding for First Nations child welfare, education and community health services and services for urban Indigenous people, and develop a long-term poverty eradication strategy in collaboration with First Nations and other Indigenous organizations and communities.
- The provincial government should implement the $10aDay Child Care Plan, put forward by the Early Childhood Educators of BC and the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, to establish universal access to high-quality, affordable child care for BC children and families. The federal government should support this initiative with a national early childhood education and care program which includes a well-developed policy framework based on the same principles, is guided by targets and timelines and supported by long-term, sustained funding.
- The provincial government should ensure all youth aging out of care can count on consistent financial support for basic living costs and long-term relationships with caring, dependable adults for support, advice and references, until the age of 25. Provincial and local governments should ensure all youth aging out of care have a chance to connect and contribute to their communities through creative, cultural and volunteer activities, so that they feel like they belong.
- The provincial government should provide additional funds to social service agencies and non-profit housing societies to provide housing and other supports to queer and transgender youth at risk of homelessness and social exclusion due to the loss of family support.
- The federal and provincial governments should intensify their efforts to help immigrants and refugees adjust to life in Canada by enhancing employment assistance, removing long-standing barriers to qualification for professionals trained abroad, making more language training available, and improving employment standards and human rights protections and enforcement.
- The federal and provincial government should do more to improve access to post-secondary education by further removing financial barriers for low-income students and lowering student debt levels beyond the measures announced by the Canadian government in July 2016. Policy options include reducing tuition fees, providing lower-income students with more grants instead of loans and making student loans interest free.
- The provincial government should immediately restore the Education Guarantee to reinstate tuition-free adult basic education, to enable adults to upgrade secondary courses needed for entry to post-secondary programs, and for adults needing to learn English as an additional language.
- The federal, provincial and local governments should increase their efforts to provide housing for low-income people. This should include building more social and affordable rental housing and maintaining existing affordable housing stock to reduce the number of families in core housing need and to eliminate homelessness. The national housing strategy must include a long-term funding commitment to meet these goals. Provincial government action must include enhancing and expanding rental subsidies and other income supports to families living in or near poverty to reduce housing insecurity.
- The federal and provincial governments should work together to introduce universal coverage for all Canadians for prescription drugs, dental care and eye care as essential aspects of health care.
- The provincial government should create an independent commission on tax reform to study taxes levied in BC and to recommend ways to make the tax system fairer and reduce income inequality.
As we look forward to a provincial election in 2017, our coalition members will be looking to see how all parties respond to the facts, stories and recommendations in this report in their platforms and commitments.
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition