B.C.'s child poverty rate still Canada's highest
But rate has been dropping since 1991, says minister
British Columbia's child poverty rate has remained the highest in Canada for six years in a row and it's time the provincial government took action, according to a child and youth advocacy group.
In its annual Child Poverty Report Card released Tuesday, the advocacy group First Call said B.C. had 156,000 poor children in 2007 — even though that was a good year for the provincial economy.
"When will the provincial government take action?" asked First Call chairwoman Julie Norton, who released the report on the 20th anniversary of an unanimous House of Commons vote to end child poverty in Canada by 2000.
'We are seeing dramatic declines in child poverty in British Columbia,'—B.C. Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak
The proportion of children living in poverty in B.C. was 18.8 per cent, while the national child poverty rate was 15 per cent, according to Statistics Canada data cited in the report.
"We've been at the bottom year after year after year, and our elected officials still don't take seriously the pain and suffering that poverty causes children and their families," said Norton.
And while B.C. had fewer children living in poverty in 2007 than it had in 2006, the group pointed out that the province has since seen an economic downturn, along with the rest of the world.
"Yet half a dozen other provinces — Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba — have committed to poverty reduction plans," said Norton.
The B.C. government must come up with a legislated poverty-reduction plan that includes the appointment of a cabinet minister committed to the cause, she said.
Call for action disputed
The report calls on the province to increase child benefits and access to high quality childcare while raising welfare rates and B.C.'s minimum wage, the lowest of all provinces at $8 an hour.
But B.C. Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak said those measures would not have a huge impact on the child poverty rates.
"The stats don't back it up. The vast majority of people according to Statistics Canada who are earning minimum wage in British Columbia are under the age of 25 and most of those live at home with their parents," Polak said.
Polak also noted the report also confirms the child poverty rate in B.C. has been consistently dropping since 1991.
"We have the lowest child poverty rate in British Columbia that we have seen in almost the last 20 years," Polak said.
"We know we have to keep on top of what things are changing our world right now, but nevertheless we know that the kind of interventions we have been using are working, because we are seeing the outcomes," she said.
"We are seeing dramatic declines in child poverty in British Columbia. And this report concedes the same thing — the number of children living in poverty has decreased by 25,000," said Polak.
Poverty affects health
First Call did report 25,000 fewer B.C. children were living in poverty in 2007, compared to its 2006 study, but the group's provincial co-ordinator, Adrienne Montani, said those figures should be viewed cautiously.
"I just would remind the minister that that was during very good economic times," she said.
The report cites health experts in the BC Healthy Living Alliance saying that child poverty has a huge impact on health.
"The lack of resources and choices as well as social exclusion and stress created by poverty make it one of the most significant contributors to ill health," said the report.
And while the risk of poverty is more than three times greater for families with only a single female parent, 51 per cent of poor children live in two-parent families, the report said.
First Call is a coalition of healthcare, social service, education and justice groups formed in 1992 to advocate for the rights of children in B.C.