British Columbia has the highest child poverty rate in Canada, with one in five children considered statistically poor, says a report that calls for quick action to alleviate a worsening situation in the province.

The report by the child and youth advocacy group First Call said B.C.'s child poverty rate is 18.6 per cent compared to the national rate of 13.3 per cent. Manitoba's rate, the second-highest in the country, stands at 17.3 per cent.

Adrienne Montani, First Call's provincial co-ordinator, said B.C. stands out as having done the least among all provinces to bring down child and family poverty through government supports and programs.

"Concerted government action in the form of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for the province is long overdue," said Montani in a statement.

The authors of the 2013 Child Poverty Report Card used the most recent economic data available from Statistics Canada to issue their "dismal" findings for British Columbia.

Child poverty photo from First Call report

First Call says the number of poor children in B.C. in 2011 was 153,000 – enough to fill the Vancouver Canucks’ stadium more than eight times. (First Call)

"The child poverty rate rose from 14.3 per cent in 2010 to 18.6 per cent in 2011," said the report, which used the agency's low-income cutoffs before tax as a measure of poverty.

"On this measure, one in five B.C. children were poor — the highest rate of any province," it continues.

"The number of poor children in B.C. was 153,000 — enough children to fill the [Vancouver] Canucks' stadium over eight times," it said in reference to Rogers Arena, which has 19,000 seats.

First Call's report card makes 16 recommendations, including increasing and indexing the B.C. minimum wage and welfare rates and adopting a $10-a-day child care program to cut the child poverty rate to seven per cent within the next seven years.

"First Call's overarching recommendation for B.C. is for government to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines and a cabinet minister with the authority and responsibility to ensure government is achieving its targets on time," the report said.

It recommended raising B.C.'s minimum wage to $12 per hour from the current $10.25 an hour. It also recommended indexing future annual minimum wage increases to cost of living increases.

One in two single-parent children in poverty

Female single-parent families appear to be hit the hardest by the rise in child poverty, Montani added.

According to the report, there was a dramatic increase in the poverty rate for children living in families headed by female single parents, with a rise to 49.8 per cent in 2011, up from 21.5 per cent a year earlier.

"We were pretty shocked by this statistic. The only thing we can find so far that actually corroborates it is that the median market income for female lone-parent families dropped between 2010 and 2011 from $32,000 a year to $21,500 a year for B.C.." 

Every other province saw median income increases for female single-parent families, Montani said. The report also recommended bringing welfare rates up to the poverty line, especially in urban areas such as Vancouver.

"In 2011, a B.C. two-parent family with two children aged 10 and 15 on income assistance received a total income of $22,005," the report said.

"That's a whopping $21,287 below the Statistics Canada poverty line for a family of four in a large urban area like Metro Vancouver."

The report stated a single parent on welfare with one child received $17,404, which is $11,602 below the poverty line. It also cited B.C. government numbers that said there were 37,777 children in families on income assistance in 2011.

Government urged to review policies

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First Call has challenged Premier Christy Clark to devote as much energy to reducing child poverty as she is to creating jobs.

Montani said the report does not include cost estimates to implement the poverty reduction plans, but she urged the government to review its tax and investment policies.

"Generally, we need a fairer taxation system, first of all," she said. "Government has been giving away tax revenue by lowering tax rates, both for individuals but also for profitable corporations.

"There's always choices in government in finding money for this and that and we know that this kind of investment in children's health and well-being will start to reduce those health care costs everybody's freaking about."

Last year, First Call challenged Premier Christy Clark's government to devote as much energy to reducing child poverty as it was to creating jobs.

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said then that B.C.'s plan to create jobs in the mining and natural gas sectors is a key weapon in the government's goal to fight child poverty.

Cadieux said that since 2003, B.C.'s child poverty rate declined by 45 per cent, and the current Statistics Canada numbers, when calculated to include after-tax income, put the province's child poverty rate at 10.5 per cent.

First Call's report for 2011 puts B.C.'s child poverty rate — calculated to include after-tax income — at 11.3 per cent, tied with Manitoba for the worst in Canada.

Read the 2013 Child Poverty Report Card online