Published November 21, 2017, in The Province
By Adrienne Montani
A generational opportunity to change the child-poverty story in B.C. is knocking. The provincial NDP government and the B.C. Green party have committed to work together to design and implement a province-wide poverty reduction strategy. The new cabinet includes a minister responsible for poverty reduction, supported by a parliamentary secretary. Government has promised to introduce supporting legislation with targets and timelines in the spring of 2018 and it has appointed a forum of knowledgeable and feisty advocates to advise them on the strategy and help guide provincial consultations around the province.
At the same time, the federal Liberal government has promised to implement a national poverty reduction strategy.
Both governments have taken initial poverty reduction steps. The B.C. government has raised welfare rates by $100 per month, restored bus passes for people on disability assistance, restored tuition-free access to adult basic education and English language classes, implemented post-secondary tuition waivers for youth from foster care and promised to cut Medical Services Plan premiums by 50 per cent in 2018, among other actions.
The federal government created a new, more generous Canada Child Benefit that they claim has kept 300,000 children out of poverty in 2017. It has been praised by the Governor of the Bank of Canada as “highly stimulative” for the Canadian economy.
These first steps are helpful, but they are just a beginning. Changing the story of child poverty means looking upstream to changing the conditions that land so many families in poverty and trap them there. These conditions include growing income inequality and a tattered social safety net that fails to catch the most vulnerable children and families.
With the latest statistics showing that one in five B.C. children — 153,300 kids — are growing up in poverty and 1.2 million children in Canada, it’s clear we need stronger policy responses to today’s challenges. Families are falling through the cracks caused by growing precarious, part-time and low-wage work and soaring costs for essentials such as housing, food, child care and transportation, inadequate welfare rates, entrenched social inequities, unequal access to education and training, and a growing income and asset gap between the rich and poor.
This year’s B.C. Child Poverty Report Card also shows that in B.C. for the past 16 years, 2000 to 2015, an astounding half of all children in lone-parent B.C. families, most of them female-led, have lived in poverty. Other groups with high poverty levels include nearly half of recent immigrant children, more than one-third of children being raised by grandparents or other relatives and one-quarter of visible minority or racialized children. Children affected by disabilities are another group with higher poverty levels.
The unaddressed discrimination and under-investments affecting indigenous families and communities is another root cause of the poverty experienced by one in three native children in B.C., an undercount because the census data do not count low-income children on First Nations reserves.
Yet we know these statistics and trends can change through the application of strong public policies founded on the values of equity, dignity and respect for children’s rights, including the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development (Article 27, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).
The child poverty report released today by First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition contains 21 public policy recommendations. Many of them are echoed in the unanimous 2018 budget recommendations in the provincial finance committee report released last week.
Thousands of struggling families throughout the province are looking for action in the next federal and provincial budgets to bring them relief. Expectations for significant investments in poverty reduction measures and a fairer sharing of the economic pie are high.
Let’s not miss the opportunity presented by renewed government commitments to reducing poverty to change the child poverty story in B.C. and in Canada to a story of all children and families thriving.
First Call’s report card can be found at www.still1in5.ca
Adrienne Montani is provincial co-ordinator of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.