2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card

Summary: 

The statistics and stories in this report tell a painful truth about British Columbia.

We like to think of ourselves as a caring, civilized society, but in fact we have been tolerating and sustaining shameful levels of child and family poverty for decades. By allowing our society’s wealth to be concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer wealthy individuals, we have allowed thousands of children to grow up in poverty that we know hurts their health and ignores their human rights. We have left families raising children in BC to face stagnating wages, precarious work, gaping holes in our social safety net, and soaring costs for essential 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 (if they can), going to the food bank, scrimping on their own nutrition and juggling which bills they can afford to pay each month and still cover their rent. We have ignored the injustice of the continued over-representation of particular populations of children in these dire circumstances.

The most recent statistics from Statistics Canada (2014) paint a stark picture: 1 in 5 BC children are poor. Fifty percent of BC children being raised by single parents are poor and single mothers are going hungry to feed their children. Youth are aging out of foster care into deep poverty and disconnection, and a disproportionate number of them are Indigenous. Growing income inequality and systemic discrimination based on gender, cultural identity, disability, age and other social status markers frame this picture.

And yet, to quote pioneering researcher Dr. Clyde Hertzman, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

We know these statistics can change through the impacts of good public policies. First Call is happy to note the acknowledgement by the new federal government that allowing income inequality to rise and social mobility to decline undermines core Canadian values of fairness and equality of opportunity. We are hopeful their commitment to developing a national poverty reduction strategy will galvanize all levels of government to act on the evidence and recommendations in this Report Card and the Campaign 2000 2016 Report Card on Child Poverty in Canada. The important first step to implement the new Canada Child Benefit is already making a difference in poor families’ incomes, although we won’t be able to see the impacts on the poverty statistics for another year or two. There is still much work to do at the federal level to make sure all families can offer their children equal opportunities.

Here in BC, thanks to strong advocacy from many families, community organizations and coalitions and the Representative for Children and Youth, the provincial government has responded in the last year with some progressive policy changes, such as eliminating certain clawbacks from families with children on social assistance and enhancing some supports for youth aging out of foster care.

However, as the evidence continues to show, the severity and longevity of the crisis of child poverty in this wealthy province calls for a much bolder and more comprehensive public policy response. As shown in the poverty maps on the accompanying still1in5.ca website, child poverty is a problem in every part of this province, with some urban neighbourhoods and rural communities having rates exceeding 50%.

To date, the current BC government remains entrenched in denial about the need for a provincial poverty reduction plan that builds in accountability to achieve measurable poverty reduction goals. The call for such a plan has been echoed for many years by the Opposition New Democratic Party, the Select Standing Committee on Government Finance, the Union of BC Municipalities, the Representative for Children and Youth, First Call’s 95 member organizations, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s 450 members and supporting organizations, school districts, and many health, labour, faith, business and other community organizations. We’re waiting to see if government is listening to this groundswell of diverse voices calling for bolder action.

And, as the recommendations in this Report Card outline, we know many of the solutions that a comprehensive plan can be founded on. We make 20 specific public policy recommendations, 15 of which fall within provincial jurisdiction. They address the root causes of child and family poverty — low wages, inadequate welfare rates and other income supports; an insufficiently progressive tax system; the crisis in the affordability and availability of high-quality child care and the inadequacy of maternity and parental leave benefits; 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 unaddressed discrimination affecting Indigenous families and communities, including the historically-inadequate investments in the well-being of Indigenous children and families.

The evidence in this report is a call to action to all British Columbians distressed by the poverty experienced by their neighbours, by children going to school hungry and relying on food banks, by rising youth homelessness, and by parents working hard but not earning enough to provide for their families. We call on you to stand behind the recommendations for action in this Report Card in the coming provincial election and beyond. Let candidates and those elected know that you are paying attention to their level of commitment to eradicating child poverty and acting on its root causes. Let them know you want BC and Canada to live up to the stories we tell about being a caring society

Publication date: 
Nov 2016
Author: 
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Group
Publisher: 
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Group
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