VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s child poverty rate has remained the highest in Canada for six years in a row and it’s time the provincial government took action, says a youth advocacy group.
In its 2009 Child Poverty Report Card released Tuesday, First Call said B.C. had 156,000 poor children in 2007 — during a good year for the economy.
And while the province had fewer children living in poverty in 2007 than it had in 2006, the group pointed out that the province has since seen an economic downturn, along with the rest of the world.
Yet half a dozen other provinces — Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba — have committed to poverty reduction plans.
The proportion of poor children in B.C. was 18.8 per cent while the national child poverty rate was 15 per cent, according to Statistics Canada data cited in the report, which was released on the 20th anniversary of a unanimous House of Commons vote to end child poverty in Canada by 2000.
“When will the provincial government take action?” said chairwoman Julie Norton.
“We’ve been at the bottom year after year after year, and our elected officials still don’t take seriously the pain and suffering that poverty causes children and their families.”
Norton said the B.C. government must come up with a legislated poverty reduction plan that includes the appointment of a cabinet minister committed to the cause.
The report calls on the province to increase child benefits and access to high quality child care while raising welfare rates and the minimum wage. B.C.’s is the lowest of all provinces at $8.
But Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak said those measures would not have a huge impact on the child poverty rates.
“The stats don’t back it up. The vast majority of people according to Statistics Canada who are earning minimum wage in British Columbia are under the age of 25 and most of those live at home with their parents,” Polak said.
She said the child poverty rate in B.C. has been consistently dropping since 1991.
“We have the lowest child poverty rate in British Columbia that we have seen in almost the last 20 years,” Polak said.
“We know we have to keep on top of what things are changing our world right now, but nevertheless we know that the kind of interventions we have been using are working, because we are seeing the outcomes.”
First Call reported 25,000 fewer B.C. children were living in poverty in 2007, compared to its 2006 study but the group’s provincial co-ordinator, Adrienne Montani, said those figures should be viewed cautiously.
“I just would remind the minister that that was during very good economic times,” she said.
The report cites health experts in the BC Healthy Living Alliance saying that has a huge impact on health.
“The lack of resources and choices as well as social exclusion and stress created by poverty make it one of the most significant contributors to ill health.”
While the risk of poverty is over three times greater for female lone-parent families, 51 per cent of poor children live in two-parent families, the report said.
“High child and poverty rates are disturbing and unacceptable,” said Montani.
“With a concerted plan and leadership from government, things will keep getting worse. The question remains: When will the provincial government take action?”