Where’s the Accountability for Children Growing Up in Poverty in BC?
Data in the 2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card, released November 24, 2016, by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, highlights how growing income inequality among BC families has one in five of our children living in poverty, and how our failure to properly support youth as they leave foster care is putting many of them at risk of homelessness.
Using the most recent data, the report shows a very slight decrease in BC’s child poverty rate from 20.4% in 2013 to 19.8% in 2014. This small decline is reflected in the poverty rate for children in couple families from 13% to 12.4%.
However, there was no decrease in the shocking 50.3% poverty rate of children living in lone-parent families, the vast majority of which are single-mother families. Nearly half (49.4%) of BC’s poor children live in lone-parent families.
BC’s child poverty rate is higher than the Canadian average of 18.5%, and represents 163,260 children, larger than the population of Abbotsford, the province’s fourth largest city.
“During their critical growing years, thousands of BC children and youth continue to be subjected to the stresses and deprivations of poverty because this province has refused to develop a comprehensive poverty reduction plan,” said Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator of First Call. “Where is the accountability from government to these young people?”
Other key findings in the 2016 report include:
- BC’s child poverty rate of 19.8% is higher than the overall (all ages) poverty rate of 16%. Children under 6 have an even higher poverty rate of 20.1%.
- 17 out of 29 regional districts had child poverty rates higher than 20%. The Central Coast regional district had the highest rate at 51.9%.
- Over half (51%) of BC’s poor children lived in Metro Vancouver in 2014 (82,960 children).
- Contrary to popular belief, the majority of poor children have parents in paid work.
- Between 2007 and 2014 in Metro Vancouver, the 18% increase in family expenses vastly outpaced the 10% increase in family incomes, according to Living Wage for Families Campaign calculations. Child care costs alone rose by 35% and rent by 26%.
- Poor families with one or two children in BC in 2014 had median incomes between $10,000 and $12,000 below the poverty line. This means over half of them were even deeper in poverty.
- Adjusted for inflation, welfare incomes for a couple with two children decreased from $23,328 in 1989 to $21,924 in 2014, for a loss of $1,404 in annual income.
- Some 1,000 youth age out of government care in BC each year and 40% of the province’s homeless youth have been in government care at some point in their lives.
- In 2014, the richest 10% of BC families received 27% of the total income, while the poorest half of families shared only 25%.
- New 2014 data show BC to be the most unequal of all provinces. The average income of the top 10% of families was 13 times the income of the bottom 10%.
“Poverty affects children’s development and robs them of their potential,” said Michael McKnight, president and CEO of United Way of the Lower Mainland. “It’s imperative for the future of our province that we tackle this issue now. When we invest in our children, we are investing in our future.”
In addition to calling for a provincial poverty reduction plan, the 2016 report card makes 20 public policy recommendations that would help reduce the child poverty rate to 7% or less by 2020. These recommendations include adopting the $10 a Day Child Care Plan; increasing and indexing the minimum wage, welfare rates and provincial child tax benefit; paying living wages; enhancing Employment Insurance benefits and eligibility; increasing affordable housing options for families; addressing poverty for First Nations and urban Aboriginal families; improving the affordability of post-secondary education; increasing supports for youth aging out of foster care; and enhancing universal health coverage.
“BC’s high level of income inequality is one of the root causes of high rates of child and family poverty,” said Scott Graham, associate executive director of SPARC BC. “Reducing income inequality will create healthier children and healthier communities and we know what policy changes will achieve this. BC is not a poor province and we can do better.”
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition is part of Campaign 2000, a national network that marks the anniversary every November of the 1989 pledge by the House of Commons to work to end child poverty by the year 2000. The 2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card was prepared by the First Call coalition with the help of the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC).