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Province unveils poverty reduction plan

The province has unveiled British Columbia’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy.

Called TogetherBC, the strategy highlights programs and initiatives with a goal of reducing overall poverty in the province by 25 per cent, and cutting child poverty in half, over the next five years.

“Together, we can build a fairer province by bringing down barriers and giving people the services and supports they need to break out of the cycle of poverty,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “TogetherBC is our roadmap for a better British Columbia, where everyone, regardless of their background or income, is treated with dignity and has access to opportunity.”

Using a 2016 baseline, the strategy aims to lift 140,000 people out of poverty, including 50,000 children. Further poverty reduction goals will be established as these targets are met.

The strategy is anchored by a number of key initiatives including the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit and Childcare BC.

When the benefit takes effect, families with one child will receive up to $1,600 per year, those with two children will receive up to $2,600, and those with three children will receive up to $3,400 a year.

The previous early childhood tax benefit was only available for children up to the age of six. The new benefit recognizes that families with kids face costs over the long term by extending supports to children up to age of 18. Once this new benefit is in place, a family will receive as much as $28,800 from when the baby is born until adulthood. For a family with two children, support can surpass $40,000.

The strategy also highlights the government’s previous action of the Fair Wage Commission and the government’s move to:

  • Increasing the minimum wage annually until it reaches $15.20 by 2021;
  • Harmonizing minimum wage rates for people working in restaurants, bars and other service industries, consistent with the Commission’s overall path;
  • Increasing the minimum wage for farm workers paid by piece-rate by 11.5 per cent (Jan. 1, 2019), consistent with the increase to the general minimum wage.

The new child care benefit, announced in the spring budget, is also part of the strategy.

The new benefit is available to families of children in licensed child care facilities. Families making up to $45,000 a year can receive the full benefit for each child, up to the full cost of child care. The Affordable Child Care Benefit works in tandem with the Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative. The Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative was introduced by government in spring 2018. It lowers the cost of licensed child care for parents each month.

The province is also building 22,000 new child care spaces in B.C. through space-creation initiatives like the Childcare BC New Spaces Fund.

The province is also making changes to income and disability assistance. British Columbia has seen two increases to income assistance and disability assistance rates: $100 per month per case in October 2017; and $50 for individuals and single parent families and $100 for couples and two-parent families in 2019.

The wait time for beginning income assistance is being reduced from five weeks to three.

In 2017, the province raised earnings exemptions for people on disability assistance by $2,400 a year and for people on income assistance by $200 a month on Oct. 1, 2017. This means someone on disability assistance can earn $12,000 a year, people on income assistance can earn $400 a month and those with children can now earn up to $600 per month, with no financial implications.

A Poverty Reduction Advisory Committee has been appointed to advise the minister on matters relating to poverty reduction and prevention. This advisory committee includes advocates, experts, Indigenous peoples and people with lived experience from around the province.

“If we are going to be everything we can be, then we must address poverty,” said Simpson. “After so many years of social priorities being ignored and underfunded, we know we can’t solve this overnight, but we have set the course and I look forward to working across all sectors to address the breadth and depth of poverty. Poverty is a complex problem, yes, and it’s one that we can solve.”

The BC Liberals, who dismissed calls to develop a poverty reduction plan while they were in government, saying its Jobs Plan would address poverty, are calling the plan “underwhelming.”

“After nearly two years in office, the NDP has released its long-awaited poverty reduction plan – except there’s nothing new in this plan to actually help people out of poverty,” said Marvin Hunt, Social Development and Poverty Reduction critic and Surrey-Cloverdale MLA. “This reads more like another NDP re-announcement than a substantive government strategy.”

Hunt notes the NDP’s plan contains gaps – offering no plan for economic growth and ignoring the importance of well-paying jobs for British Columbians’ financial security. The strategy also contains no mention of the 19 new or increased taxes the NDP has introduced since taking office, which raise the cost of living in British Columbia.

“The premier himself admits British Columbians are working two or three jobs just to get by,” says Hunt. “But instead of tackling this unacceptable situation, Premier Horgan and his government seem to be using this strategy as an opportunity to pat themselves on the back. British Columbians need more than a redistribution of money. They need access to opportunities, and the NDP is failing to deliver.”