Published November 24, 2016, in the Province
The most recent statistics from Statistics Canada show that one in five B.C. children are still poor, writes Adrienne Montani.
In 2002, 100 per cent of child support payments received by mothers on income assistance were suddenly deducted from their income, thanks to new rules enacted by the B.C. Liberal government. Thirteen years later, after years of advocacy from groups like First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, opposition MLAs and parents, and after millions of dollars had been taken from thousands of children, government finally stopped deducting these payments.
Also in 2002, single parents on income assistance who were enrolled in post-secondary programs to help get themselves off assistance were told to quit school or be kicked off assistance, thanks to another new rule from the Liberal government. Thirteen years later, again thanks to community advocacy efforts, government finally started allowing single parents on assistance to stay on benefits while they attend training programs.
Every November First Call publishes an annual BC Child Poverty Report Card monitoring the scope, the impacts and the root causes of child and family poverty in BC. Each year there are numerous recommendations for policy changes that the provincial government can act on to reduce the rate and depth of child poverty. Recommendations to eliminate the clawback of child support payments and to allow parents on assistance to attend post-secondary programs have been included and ignored year after year, until 2015.
In this pre-election period, Premier Clark and other cabinet ministers are now boasting shamelessly about their leadership in helping families and children by belatedly reversing their earlier decisions.
Many recommendations, such as raising social assistance rates, are still being ignored, and parents on disability assistance are still fighting to stop other clawbacks of federal pensions benefits.
In this year’s BC Child Poverty Report Card, the most recent statistics from Statistics Canada (2014) again paint a stark picture: one in five B.C. children are still poor. Child poverty is a problem in every part of the province, with some urban neighbourhoods and rural communities having rates exceeding 50 per cent.
We have left thousands of B.C. families to face stagnating wages, precarious work, gaping holes in our social safety net and soaring costs for basic living expenses (for example, housing, food, child care, transportation). Parents raising their children in poverty are frantically trying to keep their heads above water by working more hours or multiple jobs, going to the food bank and juggling which bills they can afford to pay each month and still cover their rent.
In B.C., youth are aging out of foster care into deep poverty and disconnection and a disproportionate number of them are indigenous. Indigenous children of all ages, new immigrants and refugees, children of single mothers and with disabilities are also over-represented in child poverty statistics.
For the third year in a row the provincial finance committee has echoed our call for the provincial government to develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, including legislated timelines and targets for the reduction of poverty and homelessness.
It’s past time for this province to step up and address the root causes of child and family poverty: low wages, inadequate welfare rates; an insufficiently progressive tax system; the lack of a public system of affordable, quality child care; the housing crisis; financial barriers to accessing post-secondary education; insufficient supports for youth aging out of foster care, for grandparents raising grandchildren and for new immigrants and refugees; and the historically inadequate investments in the well-being of Indigenous children and families.
The evidence in this year’s Report Card is a call to British Columbians distressed by the poverty experienced by their neighbours. Make child and family poverty an issue in the coming provincial election and demand action on poverty’s root causes, not just its symptoms. Let them know you want BC to live up to the stories we tell about being a caring society.
First Call’s report card can be found at www.firstcallbc.org.
Adrienne Montani is provincial co-ordinator of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.