One in five B.C. children live in poverty, a rate that is unchanged from 20 years ago, First Call’s 2016 B.C. Child Poverty Report Card shows.
That’s 163,000 kids living in poverty, including 50 per cent of those living with single parents and high numbers of foster children aging out of care, children of recent immigrants, Indigenous children, children in visible-minority families and children with a disability, the report card says. In 2016, 33,300 B.C. children relied on food banks, the report says.
“We want to shine a light on the over-represented groups,” said Adrienne Montani, First Call’s provincial coordinator.
Raising minimum-wage and social-assistance rates would go a long way toward fixing the problem, Montani said. As would affordable child care, living wages and more supports for post-secondary education, she said.
“But, first, have a provincial poverty reduction plan with some accountability,” Montani said. “That would be legislated and it would say we’re going to reduce it by this much by this date.”
For many years B.C. had the highest child-poverty rate in Canada, but today it’s in the middle of the pack, after Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Quebec (15.1 per cent) and Alberta (15.5) have the lowest rates in the country. The national rate is 18.5 per cent. The report card uses 2014 data.
Montani said B.C.’s jump is due to a change in how the statistics are calculated, rather than a sudden improvement for B.C.’s kids. The old data didn’t capture people living on reserves, which may explain the changes for Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It also didn’t provide statistics when there was a very small number of participants, which might explain the two Maritime provinces’ change in status. However, she says the new data set is more robust and should be more accurate.
B.C.’s overall poverty rate is 16 per cent. If B.C.’s child-poverty rate had been reduced to the same level as the overall poverty rate, there would have been 31,281 fewer poor kids in B.C., the report card says.
” … (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,” the report says.
B.C. has the highest ratio of income inequality among all provinces when comparing the richest 10 per cent with the poorest 10 per cent, Montani said, adding that inequality is a factor in poverty.
On the positive side, the report notes that the new federal government is committed to developing a national poverty reduction strategy and that the new Canada Child Benefit is making a difference for many families. It also notes that in B.C. there have also been some improvements, including some supports for foster children aging out of care and the elimination of some clawbacks from families with children that are on social assistance. The number of poor kids in B.C. went down by 4,550 from 2013 to 2014.
For the first time, the report has a special section about foster children aging out of government care, saying that about half of former foster kids will go on income assistance after turning 19 and that 40 per cent of B.C.’s homeless youth have been in government care. The report says youth aging out should be able to count on consistent financial support until age 25.
By Tracy Sherlock (firstname.lastname@example.org)