Child poverty remains endemic in B.C. with an estimated 153,300, one in five, growing up in poverty, says First Call — the B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.
Many poor families in the province aren’t just poor, they’re really poor with median annual incomes more than $10,000 below the poverty lines for their respective family size, says the coalition’s 2017 Child Poverty Report Card.
“Families on welfare, the majority of whom have disabilities or other health conditions, struggle to meet their basic needs, and frequently have to rely on food banks and other charitable sources to feed and clothe their children,” it says.
Social costs of not addressing child poverty are enormous, said Adrienne Montani, First Call’s provincial coordinator.
“If kids grow up in poverty over a long period of time or even severe poverty over a short period of time, it can affect the health for the life course, so that cost is in the health-care system,” she said.
If children come to school hungry, or not ready to learn because they’re stressed by what’s happening at home, it can be extremely disruptive to learning, she said.
The report notes recent developments by both provincial and federal governments such as promised poverty-reduction strategies and targeted reduction plans are cause for hope, but there is much to be done.
Montani said improving the lot of poor families helps the community at large.
“Most poor children live in families whose parents work,” Montani said.
“We know when low-income families get a higher wage or more work or both, they spend their money locally.”
First Call makes 21 recommendations — 16 of which fall under provincial jurisdiction — including raising the minimum wage and social assistance rates and tying them to inflation, introducing $10-a-day daycare, providing free public transit for minors and reducing transit fees for low-income families.
The report says the recommendations address the “root causes” of child and family poverty, including low wages, inadequate welfare rates and other income supports, underinvestment for First Nations, the tax system, housing, child care and gender discrimination.
Recommended actions both the province and the federal government can take include:
• Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and indexing it to inflation.
• Introduce significant increases to income and disability assistance rates to bring them in line with living expenses and index them to inflation.
• Expand post-secondary education program options under the single parent employment initiative.
• Redesign the Early Childhood Tax Benefit into a B.C. Child Benefit covering all children under 18 and double the maximum to $1,329 per child.
• Ensure the new Child Benefit reduces the child poverty rate by 50 per cent in four years and ensure access to families living at higher rates of poverty.
• Create a targeted GST credit top up of $1,800 per adult and child living below the poverty line.
• Increase funding for First Nations child welfare, education and community health services and services for urban Indigenous people.
• Introduce the $10 a day daycare plan.
• Increase the maternity and parental leave benefit.
• Ensure youth aging out of care have necessary financial support for basic living costs and basic supports and services until they are 25.
• Review and enhance supports for grandparents raising grandchildren.
• Increase funding for thousand of new social and affordable rental housing units.
• Introduce universal coverage for prescription drugs, dental, eye care and hearing aids.
• Free public transit for minors and reduced transit fees for low income families.
The public is invited to weigh in on how poverty might be reduced — the province has scheduled the first community meeting for its poverty reduction strategy in Victoria.
The meeting is Nov. 27, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Da Vinci Centre, 195 Bay St.
More meetings will be held around the province, beginning in the new year.