VANCOUVER – A coalition of child and youth advocates says one in five children in British Columbia lives in poverty, but immigrant kids, off-reserve Indigenous kids and those from visible minority backgrounds are even worse off.
The grim reality of growing up poor is outlined in a report by First Call, which wants public policy initiatives including a commitment to early childhood development and economic equality to give kids a chance to succeed.
The report says the child poverty rate in B.C. in 2015 was 18.3 per cent, representing 153,000 children, half of them living in Metro Vancouver, and that the overall rate is nearly a full percentage point above the national average.
First Call’s provincial co-ordinator Adrienne Montani says children from single-parent families experienced poverty at 48 per cent, more than four times the rate of kids with two parents.
The report says that in 2015, a single parent working full time for the whole year for minimum wage would have earned only $18,761.
“The statistics on the depth of poverty show poor children in B.C., including those living with parents working full-time or part-time, are being raised on median annual incomes more than $10,000 below the poverty lines for their respective family sizes,” the report says.
“Families on welfare, the majority of whom have disabilities or other health conditions, struggle to meet their basic needs, and frequently have to rely on food banks and other charitable sources to feed and clothe their children.”
First Call has made 21 recommendations, including a $10-a-day child care plan, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and providing affordable housing options to families struggling to pay their bills.
“Poverty negatively affects children’s physical, emotional and social development,” says Michael McKnight, president of the United Way of the Lower Mainland. “We need to look after our most vulnerable. No child in B.C. should be limited because of poverty.”
First Call is also urging both provincial and federal governments to increase funding for First Nations child welfare, provide more education and community health services and to work with Indigenous organizations and communities to develop a long-term plan to address poverty.
The coalition has been tracking child and family poverty rates in B.C. for two decades, and its first report also showed that one in five children is poor.
First Call is part of a national network called Campaign 2000, which also issued a report Tuesday on the poverty level of Canadian children living on social assistance.
A new federal housing strategy to be released Wednesday is expected to meet most of what Campaign 2000 asks for in its report, including a portable housing benefit paid directly to tenants and an Indigenous housing strategy.
B.C.’s Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction has scheduled community meetings throughout the province starting next week and continuing until March to gather information on a strategy to address poverty.
Steps taken so far by the provincial government include raising welfare rates by $100 per month, restoring bus passes for people on disability assistance and waiving post-secondary tuition for youth from foster care.