Child poverty rates in B.C. still dismal
The province continues to hold the shameful title of having one of the highest child poverty rates in the country, tying with Quebec for second place, while this year Manitoba has the dubious honour of being first.
For eight years in a row, B.C. had the highest child poverty rate in Canada, Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator for First Call BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition said, adding there has been no significant change in that trend this year.
First Call B.C. is a coalition made up of over 90 provincial organizations and 25 communities, and includes a network of hundreds of community groups and individuals. Each year, First Call issues a child poverty report card, using Stats Canada numbers, meaning the information is based on figures compiled two years previous, in this case 2010, and it is based on before tax incomes.
Montani gave a brief sneak peak at this year’s report card while speaking to an audience of teachers readying themselves to march from Duchess Park to MLA Shirley Bond’s office, marking International Children’s Day by creating awareness about child poverty in the province. The teachers also gathered donations for the Elizabeth Fry Society.
Montani further broke down the numbers, explaining a 14.3 per cent child poverty rate translates to 119,000 British Columbian children living in poverty.
“We haven’t made much progress over time,” she said.
And the world has noticed. Montani pointed out Canada, one of the world’s richest countries, was chastised recently by the UN for it’s lack of progress fighting child poverty, despite committing to try to find solutions to the problem.
“The UN noticed we made some empty commitments and refused to live up to them,” she said.
Canada committed to ending child poverty in 2000 but failed to put together a national strategy, then committed to doing so again in 2009, but did not follow through.
The UN charts child poverty rates among the world’s richest countries. Canada always comes in close to the bottom of the chart, usually placing 24th or 25th out of about 35 countries monitored.
Added to that, the province has the highest income inequality in the country, a factor that limits the choices a child has in life. She said the lack of choices and control is one of the key stressors among low income family children.
“Canada is sliding down this trend by allowing income inequality to continue to grow,” she said.
Montani also pointed out that breaking the numbers down into categories challenges the notion that somehow the poor are responsible for the position they are in.
Of the 14.3 per cent of children who fall within the group, 42 per cent are the children of recent immigrants, 36 per cent are First Nations, 33 per cent are from single mom families, 33 per cent come from a racialized family and 27 per cent come from families with children with disabilities.
The highest percentage of families with children below the poverty line have two full time, year round working parents.
“And their children are still in poverty. This points to the issue that the B.C. economy is quite structured for minimum wage jobs,” Montani said.
She added it also questions the notion people are at fault for being in poverty.
“It challenges the idea people are responsible for their own poverty,” she said.
But the cost of poverty affects everyone, she added. She said statistics show that citizens who live in countries with a high child poverty rate, whether they are among the poor themselves or not, don’t live as long or content a life as a citizen of a country with a low child poverty rate.
The cost of doing nothing about child poverty in B.C. would be between $8.1 and $9.2 billion, while the cost of a poverty reduction plan would be about three quarters of a billion dollars.
“I know it’s not true to say they can’t afford to address child poverty,” Montani said. “The province can spend billions on the Olympics.”
She pointed out poverty among seniors was a major issue until a number of public policy initiatives were put in place decades ago.
A list of proposals the organization made as part of a poverty reduction plan include indexing the minimum wage, indexing welfare rates and public coverage for dental and eye care.
“I know we can do it,” she said. “This is not pie in the sky.”