Child advocates have given B.C. another failing grade when it comes to serving children in need, according to the eighth annual report card on child poverty released by the First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition on Wednesday.

It is also the highest child poverty rate of any province for the eighth consecutive year, according to the report, which examined 2009 figures from Statistics Canada and used the agency's low-income cut-offs before tax as a measure of poverty.

It found the number of children living below the poverty line in B.C. was 137,000, or 16.4 per cent, in 2009 — an increase of 16,000, or 1.9 percentage points, over the previous year.

"What a shame it would be for B.C. to finish last," said Julie Norton, co-chairperson of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

"We’ve noticed government has stopped making the claim that B.C. is the best place on earth. Is this a sign that they recognize that we have failed to fulfill one very basic function of government — meeting the needs of our poorest people?"

Poverty reduction strategy

Coalition spokesperson Adrienne Montani said it's time the government steps in.

"We'd like to see the province have a poverty reduction strategy as about seven other provinces have in place now. We are one of the last three that haven't really tackled this in a focused way with a cross-government effort," she said.

"It's not going to happen without some focused attention and a plan with some targets and timelines that we hold them ... accountable to, and that's what we would like government to move to."

The report card also showed:

  • In 2009, nearly half of the poor children in B.C. lived in families with at least one adult working full-time throughout the year.
  • The poverty rate for children of lone-parent mothers fell to a record low 24.2 per cent. The poverty rate for children in two-parent families rose to 15 per cent.
  • Low-income two-parent families had incomes on average of $14,200 below the poverty line.
  • The poorest 50 per cent of families with children in B.C. had less than one-quarter of all the personal income of families with children.
  • An estimated investment of about $900 million is required to bring the incomes of low-income families with children in B.C. up to the poverty line.
  • The poverty gap — or the difference between the incomes of all poor people in BC and the poverty line — was $3.872 billion in 2009.

The report card calls for reducing the child poverty rate to seven percent or less by 2020.

B.C. reducing child poverty, says premier

Its specific recommendations include further increases in the minimum wage; increases in welfare rates and child tax benefits; enhanced Employment Insurance benefits and eligibility; universal access to high-quality, affordable child care and improved access to post-secondary education.

Premier Christy Clark, meanwhile, says her government is working to reduce child poverty but she's shying away from launching a comprehensive program to address the issue.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix asked for such a program after the report was released earlier Wednesday.

But Clark pointed to her government's jobs plan, saying creating new jobs across the province will do more than any other single government program to reduce child poverty.

Clark said the Liberal government has also helped tackle poverty by increasing the minimum wage, creating new social housing, providing rental assistance and reducing or eliminating health premiums for low income people.

With files from The Canadian Press