First Call recommends that the provincial government adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines and a cabinet minister with the authority and responsibility to ensure government is achieving its targets on time. We recommend the plan contain a goal to reduce BC’s child poverty rate to 7% or lower by 2020.
Recognizing that children of recent immigrants and refugees, Indigenous children, children of female lone-parent families, children in racialized families and children with a disability, are at greater risk of living in poverty, efforts should also be targeted to achieve major reductions in poverty levels for these populations.
There are many actions that federal, provincial and local governments can take to achieve this poverty reduction goal:
- The provincial government should raise the minimum wage to make sure the lowest-paid workers earn more than a poverty wage if they work full time, full year. The minimum wage should rise to $15 an hour as soon as possible and be indexed annually to the cost of living. All workers in BC should be covered by this minimum wage.
- Governments at all levels should ensure their direct and contract employees are paid a living wage that allows them to meet their basic needs, properly support their children and avoid chronic financial stress.
- The provincial government should significantly raise income and disability assistance rates to bring them in line with actual living expenses and index them to inflation. The government should bring back the $45-per-year bus pass and Special Transportation Subsidy for people with disabilities and introduce a rural transportation subsidy for those living outside the areas where these programs operate.
- The provincial government should expand the post-secondary program options eligible for support under the Single Parent Employment Initiative and, in the absence of enhancements to BC’s refundable post-secondary grants, allow all those on income assistance to retain benefits while attending a post-secondary institution.
- The provincial government should redesign the BC Early Childhood Tax Benefit into a BC Child Benefit covering children under 18 and double the maximum benefit to $1,320 per child per year.
- The federal government should ensure the new Canada Child Benefit reduces the child poverty rate by 50% in 5 years, implement indexation immediately and ensure access to the benefit for families living at higher rates of poverty.
- Guided by the calls to action in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the rulings of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the federal and provincial governments should immediately increase funding for First Nations child welfare, education and community health services and services for urban Indigenous people, and develop a long-term poverty eradication strategy in collaboration with First Nations and other Indigenous organizations and communities.
- The provincial government should implement the $10aDay Child Care Plan, put forward by the Early Childhood Educators of BC and the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, to establish universal access to high-quality, affordable child care for BC children and families. The federal government should support this initiative with a national early childhood education and care program which includes a well-developed policy framework based on the same principles, is guided by targets and timelines and supported by long-term, sustained funding.
- The federal government should increase the maternity and parental leave benefit level to 70% of employment income and reduce qualifying hours to 300 over the best 12 weeks of the 12 months of work. All new parents (regardless of work status) should be included, and a secondary caregiver benefit should be developed to address gender disparities in care work within households.
- The provincial government should ensure all youth aging out of care can count on consistent financial support for basic living costs and long-term relationships with caring, dependable adults for support, advice and references, until the age of 25. Provincial and local governments should ensure all youth aging out of care have a chance to connect and contribute to their communities through creative, cultural and volunteer activities, so that they feel like they belong.
- The provincial government should provide additional funds to social service agencies and non-profit housing societies to provide housing and other supports to queer and transgender youth at risk of homelessness and social exclusion due to the loss of family support.
- The federal government should allow grandparents on CPP Disability who are raising their grandchildren to continue to receive the children’s benefit after they turn 65.
- The federal and provincial governments should intensify their efforts to help immigrants and refugees adjust to life in Canada by enhancing employment assistance, removing long-standing barriers to qualification for professionals trained abroad, making more language training available, and improving employment standards and human rights protections and enforcement.
- The federal government should extend the program that waives transportation loans for Syrian refugees travelling to Canada to all new refugees and immediately cancel all outstanding transportation loan debt.
- The federal and provincial governments should do more to improve access to post-secondary education by further removing financial barriers for low-income students and lowering student debt levels beyond the measures announced by the Canadian government in July 2016. Policy options include reducing tuition fees, providing lower-income students with more grants instead of loans and making student loans interest-free.
- The provincial government should immediately restore the Education Guarantee to reinstate tuition-free adult basic education, to enable adults to upgrade courses needed for entry into post-secondary programs and to learn English as an additional language.
- The federal government should enhance Employment Insurance to expand access, duration and levels of benefits. Reduce the number of qualifying hours to 360 for all workers and enhance benefit levels over a longer benefit period of 50 weeks.
- The federal, provincial and local governments should increase their efforts to provide housing for low-income people. This should include building more social and affordable rental housing and maintaining existing affordable housing stock to reduce the number of families in core housing need and to eliminate homelessness. The national housing strategy must include a long-term funding commitment to meet these goals. Provincial government action must include enhancing and expanding rental subsidies and other income supports to families living in or near poverty to reduce housing insecurity.
- The federal and provincial governments should work together to introduce universal coverage for all Canadians for prescription drugs, dental care and eye care as essential aspects of health care.
- The provincial government should create an independent commission on tax reform to study taxes levied in BC and recommend ways to make the tax system fairer and reduce income inequality. The federal government should also address growing income inequality by continuing to restore fairness to the personal income taxation system and re-introducing the principle of taxation based on ability to pay.
Want to take action? Send an email to BC’s Premier asking her to adopt a poverty reduction strategy to reduce child poverty that includes these recommendations!