BC Overdue for a Poverty Reduction Plan


Seth Klein, Iglika Ivanova, Andrew Leyland

The following is excerpted from the summary of the report “Long Overdue: Why BC Needs a Poverty Reduction Plan,” by Seth Klein, Iglika Ivanova, and Andrew Leyland, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The full report is available to read at the TAPS office or online at www.policyalternatives.ca.

British Columbia is the only province or territory in Canada that stubbornly refuses to develop a poverty reduction plan. This is not because BC doesn’t have a poverty problem. In fact, despite being one of Canada’s wealthiest provinces, BC has among the highest poverty rates in the country—13.2 per cent according to the Market Basket Measure (MBM), which we believe most accurately estimates current poverty. This makes BC’s poverty rate the second highest in Canada.

Since 2008, over 400 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of British Columbians — including community groups, faith, Indigenous, business and health organizations, trade unions and others — have signed on to the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s call for a comprehensive plan with legislated targets and timelines. In rejecting the call for a poverty reduction plan, the BC government points instead to its Jobs Plan. [The CCPA] report reveals the failure of their approach.

First, while the government touts “jobs” as its answer to poverty, a large share of the poor have already taken such advice and are currently employed in the low-wage labour market. It is a common misconception that the poor are mostly on social assistance. [The authors’] research shows that about half of those living below the poverty line are either the working poor or children of the working poor. While over 13 per cent of British Columbians live in poverty, only about four per cent rely on social assistance at any given time (the balance of those not employed are mainly seniors or those who rely on other forms of income support).

Second, a closer look at poverty trends over time reveals that the government’s approach has failed to meaningfully reduce poverty. BC’s poverty rates are now approximately the same as they were prior to the 2008 recession (when the call for a poverty reduction plan was first issued), and poverty rates remain much higher than historic lows seen in the late 1970s and late 1980s. Measures of severe hardship such as food bank use and homelessness have continued to climb. And the number of people working but who still live in poverty is also on the rise.

People in every BC community experience poverty and are affected by the physical, emotional and social hardships of being poor. Particularly troubling is the high number of children living in poverty because of the long-term health and social impacts. One in five of BC’s poor are under 18 years of age. Poverty rates are also disproportionately high for marginalized groups including Indigenous people, people with disabilities and mental illness, recent immigrants and refugees, single mothers, single senior women, and queer and transgender people. When these factors combine, rates climb even higher. For example, the poverty rate for children in single mother-led households is a shocking 49 per cent. The poverty rate for Indigenous children in Vancouver is 33 per cent, and 52 per cent of on-reserve Indigenous children live in poverty.

Too often we become resigned to the presence of poverty, hunger and homelessness, and we falsely believe that ending these social ills represents too great a challenge. The “poverty gap” in BC—meaning the total amount of money needed to bring every British Columbian living under the poverty line to that threshold—was $5.8 billion in 2014. That’s how much it would take in increased wages and income supports to eliminate poverty in BC. This sounds like a lot of money, but it represented only about 2.4 per cent of BC’s economy (as measured by GDP).

Surely in a province with an annual income of $250 billion we can afford to close a poverty gap of less than $6 billion. Jurisdictions that set ambitious goals have seen substantial progress in reducing poverty.

[The] report recommends a comprehensive provincial poverty reduction plan that includes measures to:

  • Significantly increase welfare and disability rates and index them to inflation;
  • Increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour and then index it to inflation, and encourage employers to adopt the living wage for families in their community;
  • Build 10,000 new social and co-op housing units annually; and
  • Adopt the $10-a-Day child care plan, which includes free child care for those earning less than $40,000.

Meaningful action to address poverty in our province is long overdue. As we approach a provincial election in the spring it is incumbent upon all political parties to finally join the rest of Canada and commit to adopting a poverty reduction plan.