For people struggling with poverty, small changes can make a big difference.
The first of a series of policy updates by the Government of British Columbia will remove barriers and make it easier for people to get help when they need it most.
The policy changes that came into effect on July 1, 2019, were the focus of a roundtable discussion that Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, hosted with poverty reduction stakeholders and advocates.
“Reducing poverty is about more than broad strokes and big system changes,” said Simpson. “It is also about looking closely at existing policies that, while smaller in scope, can make a lasting impact on the life of British Columbians. It’s about asking ourselves whether these often longstanding policies are helping or harming people. These policy changes, as well as additional changes we will make later this year, are a move away from the mean-spirited policies of the past and toward increasing respect, dignity and opportunity for everyone.”
The updated Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction policies include:
- decreasing work searches from five weeks to three weeks;
- ending penalties for families providing room and board to a family member;
- expanding access to the identification supplement;
- expanding access to and simplifying the application process for the Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers category;
- eliminating the “transient” client category;
- removing the $10,000 asset limit on a primary vehicle;
- increasing asset limits for people on income assistance; and
- expanding the moving supplement for people to move anywhere in B.C.
When people cannot afford to obtain personal identification or are required to sell their vehicle to get onto assistance, they face additional and unnecessary barriers. These types of harmful policies get in the way of accessing services like banking, health services, housing, food, school and/or completing daily tasks, like driving to school or work. These simple and supportive changes will allow people to access essential services and keep them from falling further and further behind.
The changes are part of TogetherBC, B.C.’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy. The name TogetherBC reflects the most effective way to reduce poverty in B.C.: strong partnerships with government, non-profits, businesses, First Nations and Indigenous organizations and communities will help reach the people who need assistance most. These changes came from conversations with non-profit organizations, advocates and people with lived experience that illustrated the harmful impact these policies had on the people they were supposed to support.
If people do not have their basic needs met, it is almost impossible to put together other pieces like health, education and employment. Breaking the cycle of poverty is about updating existing policies and creating new ones that rebuild a strong system of supports and services. These changes are part of a larger shift in government to a culture built on empathy and inclusion — one that puts people first.
Trish Garner, community organizer, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) —
“Our income support system should be there when any one of us may need it, just like our public health care, so measures to reduce barriers to access are a move in the right direction. On behalf of the BCPRC, we congratulate the government for these small changes, which signal a culture shift at the ministry, and we hope to see more of these changes in the future to move from a punitive to a supportive approach. Increasing the asset limit, including for cars, will help people transition back off the system by not plunging them into a deep hole just to access support. We will continue to push for meaningful increases in the rates to complement these measures and rebuild our social safety net.”
Jonny Morris, chief executive officer, Canadian Mental Health Association of BC (CMHA BC) —
“CMHA BC welcomes the recently announced changes to B.C.’s Employment and Assistance Regulations that came into effect on July 1. Removing the financial penalty for adults living with parents will benefit people with mental health and substance use problems whose parents may be key sources of inclusion and support. The elimination of discriminatory eligibility criteria that barred people with substance use related health issues from accessing some benefits is a welcome change that ends a longstanding and harmful approach. These changes and others will provide people experiencing mental health and substance use related health issues with improved access to existing income and disability assistance benefits, which we know supports their well-being.”
Doug King, executive director, Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) —
“On behalf of TAPS, this is an important first step in restoring the income and disability assistance process with dignity for all applicants. We’re very happy to see important changes to the moving supplement in the midst of a housing a crisis in British Columbia. It’s important for low-income British Columbians to have the support of the ministry when they find themselves in transition or without a home. We are looking forward to more changes in the future, so that this process can be made more fair and accessible.”
For a detailed description of each policy, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2019SDPR0047-001258
Read TogetherBC: British Columbia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/poverty-reduction-strategy