PV Vancouver Bureau


            This year's change in government in British Columbia has raised hopes that the province's staggering income and wealth gap, a legacy of policies going back over thirty years, may finally be acknowledged and perhaps even addressed to a significant degree. But NDP Premier John Horgan and his cabinet face big challenges in tackling the wide-scale levels of poverty in this province.


            One trusted measure of economic realities in British Columbia has been the annual BC Child Poverty Report Card, published for over a decade by the First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. The Report Card highlights the income inequality that leaves British Columbia families struggling to cover basic living expenses, notably the fact that nearly one in five children in this province still live in poverty.


            Using the most recent data, the report issued on Nov. 17 shows BC’s child poverty rate for children age 0-17 in 2015 was 18.3%, representing 153,300 children. This is nearly a full percentage point higher than the national average of 17.4%. It is down slightly from the 2014 rate of 19.8%.


            In 2015, while BC children made up just 18% of the province’s total population, they made up 22% of all British Columbians living in poverty.


            The report contains new 2016 census data highlighting the much higher poverty rates among some groups of children in the province, with recent immigrant children at 45%, off-reserve Aboriginal children at 31%, and racialized (‘visible minority’) children at 23%.


            “Children living in lone-parent families continue to have the highest poverty rate at 47.7%, or close to one in every two children in these family type, says Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator of First Call. “As most of these families are led by women, this points to the continued need to make sure our poverty reduction efforts address issues disproportionately affecting women, such as the gender wage gap and the lack of affordable quality child care.”


            Other key findings in the 2017 report include:


* In 2015, the child poverty rate for children in lone-parent families (47.7%) was more than four times the rate (11.2%) for their counterparts in couple families.


* 2% of the 14,490 children living with grandparents, alone or with relatives, non-relatives or in foster care, were living in poverty.


* Nearly half (45%) of recent immigrant children were poor, one in three (31%) Indigenous children were poor (not counting children living on First Nations reserves), and 23% of racialized (‘visible minority’) children were poor.


* In 2015, a single parent with one child working full-time for the whole year for minimum wage would have only earned $18,761, leaving them $10,111 below the $28,872 LIM before-tax poverty line.


* Poor families with two children in BC in 2015 had median incomes that were $11,000 below the poverty line. This means over half of them were even deeper in poverty.


* The 2017 Metro Vancouver homelessness count found 386 homeless children and youth under 25 years, including 201 children under the age of 19.


* For a couple with two children on welfare in 2015, their total income was $23,468, just 64% of the poverty line income of $36,426, leaving them $12,958 below the poverty line.


* Approximately 85% of the poor children in BC live in the province’s 25 urban areas. However children living outside urban areas had a 23.3% poverty rate, much higher than the provincial child poverty rate of 18.3%.


* Across BC, 23 out of the 29 regional districts had at least 1,000 children living in poverty. Metro Vancouver had 76,880 poor children, representing 50% of the poor children in BC.


* The income of BC’s richest 10% of families with children took home 24% of the income pie, compared to the 2% shared by the poorest 10% of families.


            In addition to calling for a provincial poverty reduction plan, the 2017 report card makes 21 public policy recommendations that would help reduce the child poverty rate to 7% or less by 2020.


            Key recommendations to the provincial government include implementing the $10 a Day Child Care Plan; bringing the minimum wage up to $15 an hour and indexing it, significantly increasing income and disability assistance rates and extending the provincial child tax benefit for all children under 18. Additional provincial recommendations include enhanced supports for youth transitioning out of government care, removing financial barriers to obtaining a post-secondary education, paying living wages and substantially increased investments in affordable housing options for families, among others.


            Federal contributions to many of these key areas are also targeted in the report’s recommendations, as well as areas that are under federal jurisdiction, such as enhancing Employment Insurance benefits and eligibility, eliminating refugee transportation loan debt and extending universal health coverage to prescription drugs, dental and eye care and hearing aids, among others.


            First Call wants both senior levels of government to end discrimination and immediately increase funding for First Nations child welfare, education and community health services and services for urban Indigenous people, and develop a long-term poverty eradication strategy in collaboration with First Nations and other Indigenous organizations and communities.


            For more information, visit http://firstcallbc.org


(The above article is from the December 1-31,2017, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)