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Changes aim to help people out of poverty

Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions

VICTORIA – The province is is setting new 10-year targets to reduce overall poverty and child poverty, and introducing a new target to reduce seniors’ poverty. Another change reduces barriers for people receiving income assistance or disability assistance, improving their access to supports and employment.

“We know people in B.C. are facing big challenges, so we are setting new, ambitious poverty-reduction targets, to better help people, including seniors, get through tough times,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, in a news release. “People say they feel better – and are better off – when they have a job and community connections, so we are also reducing barriers for those who can work, while continuing to support those who cannot.”

The social development and poverty reduction statutes amendment act (Bill 7) amends three acts.

First, B.C.’s 2018 Poverty Reduction Strategy Act (PRSA) is being amended to commit the province to reduce overall poverty by 60 per cent, child poverty by 75 per cent and seniors’ poverty by 50 per cent (from 2016 levels), over the next 10 years. Actions and funding that will help government reach these goals will be included in B.C.’s new Poverty Reduction Strategy, which will be released in spring 2024.

Second, Bill 7 also includes changes to the two laws that govern income and disability assistance: the Employment and Assistance Act, and Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act, which have not been comprehensively updated since 2002. Some sections in these laws made life harder for people. The new provisions will change employment requirements for people on income assistance and disability assistance to better support them to find and keep a job. The changes will develop a new employment approach where people will be assessed after they start receiving assistance to determine what supports they need to work towards employment.

“After my move from my hometown of Bella Coola to Vancouver, I was struggling with substance use and isolation,” said Mike Pootlass, whose life was transformed by a government-funded skills training program. “Thanks to help from the Lookout Ethical Employment Program, I was able to access quality counselling, skills training and employment. I found a job as a janitor at Lookout’s Jim Green supportive housing and have been working for over nine months now. Having the right supports and an opportunity to find my way towards employment has helped me to overcome intergenerational trauma, create a good life for myself and make contributions to my community.”

Through these changes, the province is also bringing its legislation in alignment with its commitments under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act). Section 4.15 of the Declaration Act requires the province to “incorporate Indigenous experience and knowledge of poverty and well-being into ongoing poverty reduction efforts and the 2024 Poverty Reduction Strategy.”

These measures in Bill 7 incorporate feedback from more than 10,000 people – 70 per cent of them with lived experience of poverty – gathered during B.C.’s public consultation in 2023. One of the key themes raised during this engagement was that accessing supports needs to be made easier so that everyone has the opportunity to build a good life for themselves and their families.

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