News / Vancouver

B.C.'s child poverty rate still second worst in the country

B.C.'s child poverty rate remained the second worst of all the provinces in the country in 2010, behind only Manitoba, according to an annual report card released Wednesday by child and youth advocacy coalition First Call.

Using Statistics Canada data the authors found 119,000 children were living in poverty in B.C. in 2010, two-thirds of them in Greater Vancouver.

In response, the B.C. NDP called on the government to implement a comprehensive province-wide poverty reduction plan, but the Liberals said child poverty has been dropping dramatically since 2003.

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a Simon Fraser University political economist who studies the impact of government policies on vulnerable populations, said there are many factors that influence child poverty rates in B.C.

The most important, she said, are recessions, globalization, wages and social assistance rates, and the federal downloading of responsibility for housing and day care onto the provinces.

"Right now we're the second worst [in the country], but we have been the worst, we were the worst for 10 years running," she said, listing two policies in particular she believes contributed to a huge spike from 2001 to 2003, and rates far higher than the national average for most of the time since.

"One was the really absolutely abysmal amount that people in poverty were living on through social assistance. The second thing that's been incredibly important in B.C. has been the low-wage strategy of the government. For 10 years almost we had no increase in the minimum wage."

Cohen cautioned against attributing short-term historical spikes to any one party's policies alone, but said rates were fairly steady under the NDP in the '90s and declined significantly until 1997, when the party began rolling back social assistance rates.

The election of the B.C. Liberals in 2001 amidst a mild recession was followed by what she called an "attack on poor people" in which many people were cut from social assistance entirely and rates of homelessness began to increase.

"The real boost to child poverty began under the Liberal government," she said.

The B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development said in a statement that the province's continued focus on job creation is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty, and British Columbians also benefit from one of the lowest overall tax burdens in the country.

The party also noted it has raised the minimum wage to $10.25 per hour, but Cohen said a double income family earning that wage in Metro Vancouver is still living below the poverty line.

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