Roughly 50,000 fewer B.C. children will be living in poverty by 2024 if the provincial government meets its new targets to cut child poverty in half and overall poverty by a quarter.
The NDP campaigned in the spring of 2017 on a promise to establish a poverty reduction plan for B.C., the only province without one. But residents will have to wait until March 2019 — two years later — for the unveiling of the plan, and to find out how the targeted reductions will be achieved and how much they will cost.
“I accept and I respect the criticism (about delays), but I would rather take a few more months and get this right. And the reality is we didn’t create this problem overnight, so we’re not going to fix it overnight,” Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction, said.
“We have at this point the second-highest rate of poverty overall and the highest rate of poverty for children (in Canada).” About one in five B.C. children live in poverty.
If achieved, the new targets will improve B.C.’s ranking, he said.
Legislation proposed on Tuesday offers few details beyond targets to reduce B.C.’s population of people in poverty — estimated at 557,000 residents — by one quarter by 2024. That would require lifting 140,000 people above the poverty line, including half of the 100,000 children who are impoverished.
Trish Garner, of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, said it is a “good first step” to have targets and timelines after years of no action by the previous government.
“We would have liked to have seen a stronger overall poverty reduction target, and faster,” said Garner, a member of an advisory forum that provides advice to the minister. “Although, the target around child poverty is bold.”
First Call’s Adrienne Montani agreed, as her organization has advocated cutting child poverty in half since 2009.
Both women provided a wish list of what measures they thought should be financed in February’s budget and included in March’s plan in order to achieve the government’s targets.
Those include more-accessible child care, better wages, reduction of fees, improved access to jobs and more affordable housing through such things as rent controls.
Garner believes there are several things missing from the new legislation, such as any mention of the “depths” of poverty, which refers to how far someone is below the poverty line. She would have liked to see a commitment to increase the incomes of all poor people to within 75 per cent of the poverty line in the next two years, which she said could mainly be achieved by boosting welfare and disability rates.
Montani also hopes the province will consider enhancing the three-year-old early childhood tax benefit, so the payments are larger and continue longer — as is the case in other provinces. She noted the federal child benefit, which provides money monthly to needy families, has successfully reduced poverty nationally.
Asked when the other 50 per cent of B.C. children could be lifted out of poverty, if the first half is helped by 2024, Montani said she is cautiously optimistic that most of the solutions being discussed will help all kids in poor households.
“I am somewhat hopeful that maybe we can exceed that target,” she said.
Simpson said improvement to the early childhood benefit tax is one of things being investigated, although he made no specific commitment.
Funding this poverty reduction plan will require “significant” spending in the next five provincial budgets, but Simpson would not estimate the overall cost. He said it will include portions of NDP programs, totalling well over $1 billion, that have already been announced, such as the affordable child care plan; new housing and rent subsidy programs; increasing the minimum wage; raising social assistance and disability benefits; and ending tuition for adult basic education and English-language learning.
New measures will also be required, among them how to reduce costs of housing, food and transportation for needy people. Another necessity is jobs, said Simpson, who has met with business groups about trying to get people with mild disabilities into the workforce.
Of the 557,000 people living in poverty, about 200,000 receive welfare, disability or other services from Simpson’s ministry. The rest include seniors, the working poor, and young people aging out of foster care. That means other ministries must be involved in the poverty reduction plan, he said.
The new legislation requires government to report annually on its progress, and it will be monitored by an advisory panel.
“We’re confident that while those targets are bold, we have the capacity to meet those targets as well as to build the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty moving forward,” Simpson said.