First Call’s overarching recommendation has long been for the provincial government to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines, and we are encouraged to see this is now in progress, and that a cabinet minister has been given the authority and responsibility to ensure government achieves 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, and youth aging out foster care 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 all levels of government can take to achieve these poverty reduction goals:
- The provincial government should raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and index it 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 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 4 years and ensure access to the benefit for families living at higher rates of poverty.
- The federal government should create a targeted GST credit top-up of $1,800 per adult and child for those living below the poverty line.
- Guided by the commitments in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People including their right to self-determination, the calls to action in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and in compliance with 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 Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC and the Early Childhood Educators of BC, to establish universal access to a system of high-quality, inclusive child care for BC children and families that is fee free for families with annual incomes of less than $40,000, will increase the number of new licensed child care spaces by 22,500 spaces in 3 years and will ensure early childhood educators are paid a living wage. 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. Both the provincial and federal plans should respect the rights of Indigenous communities to be supported to develop and deliver their own culturally relevant and traditional language-based programs.
- 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 last 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.
- Working in collaboration with youth in and from government care, the provincial government should establish an inter-ministerial action plan to ensure all youth aging out of care can count on consistent financial support for basic living costs and needed supports and services, such as mental health services and connections to their cultures, and long-term relationships with caring, dependable adults for support, advice and references, until the age of 25. Their post-secondary education should be supported without limits on age or their time in care. 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 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 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 immediately cancel all outstanding refugee transportation loan debt and cease seeking repayment of transportation costs for new refugees coming to Canada. This budget adjustment should not reduce the number of refugees targeted for resettlement.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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. The national housing strategy must include a long-term funding commitment to meet these goals and targets for specific low-income populations and those at risk of homelessness. 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, as well as providing additional funds to social service agencies and non-profit housing societies to provide housing and other supports to populations at higher risk of homelessness such as LGBTTQ youth without family support and women with addictions who have young children.
- The federal and provincial governments should work together to introduce universal coverage for all Canadians for prescription drugs, dental care, eye care and hearing aids as essential aspects of health care.
- 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.
- 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 him to adopt a poverty reduction strategy to reduce child poverty that includes these recommendations!