The data and stories in this report document the scope of growing income inequality in British Columbia and the resulting continued high levels of poverty. They also illuminate the causes of child, youth and family poverty and the policy solutions that are available to us to address these root causes.
On November 5, 2018, the BC legislature unanimously passed the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act containing a target to reduce the province’s child poverty rate by 50% over a five year period beginning on January 1, 2019. A day later the federal government introduced Bill C-87, an Act respecting the reduction of poverty, setting aspirational targets to reduce Canada’s overall poverty level 20% below the 2015 level by 2020 and 50% below the 2015 level by 2030.
FIRST CALL RECOMMENDATIONS
Federal and provincial government commitments must be ambitious and fully-funded to ensure poverty reduction targets are met or, preferably, exceeded.
Recognizing that children of recent immigrants and refugees, Indigenous children, children of female lone-parent families, children in racialized families, children affected by disabilities, youth transitioning out of government care, and LGBTQ2S youth are at greater risk of living in poverty, efforts should be targeted to achieve major reductions in poverty levels for these populations.
First Call offers the following recommendations as concrete steps that federal, provincial and local governments can take to achieve or exceed their stated poverty reduction targets.
Tax Fairness and Income Support
1. The provincial government should increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and make sure all workers in BC are covered by the minimum wage by the end of 2019, and index it annually to the cost of living.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. The provincial government should redesign the BC Early Childhood Tax Benefit into a BC Child Benefit covering children under 18, double the maximum benefit to $1,320 per child per year and index it annually to the cost of living.
5. The federal government should ensure the Canada Child Benefit, in combination with other income measures, raises all families with children above the CFLIM after-tax poverty lines calculated through taxfiler data and ensure access to the benefit for families in groups with higher rates of poverty.
6. The federal government should ensure maternity and parental leave benefits are universally available to all new parents (regardless of work status) and that the benefit levels are not less than the CFLIM after-tax poverty lines.
7. The federal government should enhance Employment Insurance to expand access, duration and levels of benefits to prevent and reduce child and family poverty.
8. The provincial and federal governments should address growing income inequality by continuing efforts to increase fairness in the personal income taxation system and re-introducing the principle of taxation based on ability to pay.
Targeted Initiatives for Groups Over-Represented in Poverty Data
9. Collaborate with First Nations, Métis and Inuit governments and Indigenous organizations to develop plans to prevent, reduce and eradicate child and family poverty in Indigenous communities. Comply with the rulings of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by providing adequate funding for child welfare services on reserve and ensure the full application of Jordan’s Principle for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
10. 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.
11. With the advice and direction of youth in and from government care, the provincial government should develop, resource, and maintain a universal and comprehensive social safety net dedicated to the specific needs and circumstances of the approximately 1,000 youth who ‘age out’ of care annually and all young adults who have spent time in the care system, without age and activity eligibility criteria and length-of-care requirements.
12. The provincial government should review and enhance supports to grandparents raising grandchildren and other kinship care providers. The federal government should allow grandparents on CPP Disability who are raising their grandchildren to continue to receive the CPP children’s benefit after they turn 65 and remove administrative barriers to receiving the Canada Child Benefit for kinship care providers.
13. 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.
14. The federal government should immediately cancel all outstanding refugee transportation loan debt and cease seeking repayment of transportation costs for all new refugees coming to Canada. This budget adjustment should not reduce the number of refugees targeted for resettlement.
Lower Barriers and Improve Lives Through Universal Programs
15. Both the federal and provincial governments should continue to prioritize new child care investments in their 2019 budgets and beyond to establish universal access to a system of high-quality, inclusive child care for BC children and families that has no parent fee for families with annual incomes under $45,000, creates enough licensed child care spaces for all who choose them, ensures early childhood educators are paid compensation that reflects their education and the importance of the work they do and ensures there are adequate resources and support for the implementation of the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework.
16. The provincial government should ensure K-12 public education funding is sufficient to mitigate inequalities and to ensure appropriate inclusion of students with diverse learning needs.
17. Federal and provincial government support for access to post-secondary education should be increased both to remove financial barriers for low-income students and lower student debt levels. Policy options include reducing tuition fees at public colleges, institutes and universities, interest-free student loans, and more non-repayable grants for low- and middle-income students.
18. The federal, provincial and local governments should scale up their funding to build thousands of new social and affordable rental housing units and maintain existing affordable housing stock to reduce the number of families in core housing need and to eliminate homelessness.
19. The federal and provincial governments should work together to introduce universal coverage for all Canadians for prescription drugs, dental care, vision care and hearing aids as essential aspects of health care.
20. The provincial government should work with local governments and transit authorities to develop a plan that will provide free public transit for minors (ages 0-18) and free or reduced-fee transit access for low income families.