VICTORIA – B.C.’s New Democrat government unveiled the province’s first poverty reduction plan Monday, a strategy it says can reduce overall poverty in the province by 25 per cent within five years and cut child poverty in half.
Social Development Minister Shane Simpson said the plan “comprises programs, polices and initiatives across government, tying together investments made over three budgets into a thoughtful, bold and comprehensive plan to address poverty in B.C.
“It’s a strategy that at its heart is about people,” said Simpson. “It’s about the challenges they face every day just to get by.”
The poverty reduction plan has five pillars Simpson said, including a child opportunity benefit announced in the February budget and planned for 2020, a previously set path towards a $15 minimum wage, continued investments in child care subsidies, building upon two previous increases to the welfare and disability rates, and “leveraging” on federal supports.
Simpson also pointed to continued research on a pilot project for a basic living wage, which the NDP and Greens negotiated as part of their power-sharing deal in 2017.
As well, Simpson re-announced $10 million to rent banks that Finance Minister Carole James has said will go toward helping people get short-term loans for rent so they don’t become homeless.
Simpson reiterated the importance of government’s funding for 2,000 modular units for homelessness – first announced in 2018 – as well support for low-income people that make child care almost free depending on income level.
“This has been a priority for our government since our first day in office,” said Simpson.
“For too many years B.C. was the only province in Canada without a dedicated strategy for longterm poverty reduction. The result of that inaction was the second highest poverty rate in the country.”
The report also mentions government’s decision to eliminate bridge tolls in Metro Vancouver — a 2017 election promise that was one of the NDP’s first actions upon taking power.
The poverty-reduction plan calls for a 25-per-cent reduction in poverty, and a 50 per cent reduction in child poverty, within five years.
In terms of people, 557,000 British Columbians live in poverty, and the plan targets lifting at least 140,000 above the poverty line. For children, it equates to 50,000 of the roughly 100,000 already in poverty.
Of the 557,000 people in poverty, approximately 200,000 receive government welfare, disability or other services.
The NDP campaigned on the promise of a poverty reduction strategy in the 2017 election, arguing that British Columbia was the only province without one.
However, development of the plan has moved slowly over more than a year and a half. The government passed legislation enshrining the targets into law in October, but left the details until Monday.
The government passed legislation in October that enshrined those targets in law, but left the details until Monday.
Trish Garner, community organizer with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, said it’s exciting to finally have a poverty reduction plan, something that her organization has been advocating for since its inception a decade ago.
“From our perspective, it’s a strong start,” she said. “It really demonstrates a comprehensive framework, bringing in cross-ministry investments, but we are looking for more to build on this in the future.”
Specifically, Garner said, they want to see plans for raising income assistance rates, investing in more affordable transportation and rent controls. She said they weren’t expecting to see announcements on Monday, however they had hoped to see more detail about what will be done and when.
“It’s looking at the breadth of poverty, but it’s missing some vision around the depth of poverty and what we’re really going to do there,” Garner said.
— with files from Jennifer Saltman