British Columbia

COVID-19 pandemic will increase child poverty in B.C., advocates fear

Child advocates in B.C. are worried about the added financial stress the COVID-19 pandemic has put on some families, and how that will affect children and youth.

1 in 5 children live in poverty according to most recent provincial data, and that's likely getting worse

Many families are struggling to make ends meet after job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates say. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Not enough is being done to help children in B.C. out of poverty, advocates say, as the COVID-19 pandemic puts added financial stress on many families.

A 2020 report from First Call B.C., a child and youth advocacy group, found that 159,570 of the province's children and youth — 18.5 per cent, or almost one in five — are living in poverty.

Data for the report was collected in 2018. Adrienne Montani, provincial co-ordinator of First Call B.C., said inequities seen prior to the pandemic have been magnified, and families have expressed "worry" and "desperation" in regards to making ends meet. 

"We know that a lot of people lost their jobs," Montani told CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.  

"Two-parent families either have one earner instead of two earners, or have no earners, or are working part time [and] are not getting very many hours."

That's meant more difficulty paying bills, more reliance on food banks, and has led to greater challenges for children accessing technology and digital resources to complete schoolwork, Montani says.

"Families are really struggling," she said.

B.C. Minister for Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean said the government has implemented a number of measures to help families through tough times, including the COVID-19 recovery benefit and the B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit, a tax-free monthly payment to families with children under the age of 18. 

She also noted the provincial government's ongoing efforts to increase minimum wage and the elimination of MSP payments. 

"This pandemic has exposed inequality and we want to take opportunity to close those gaps," Dean said. 

Last week, the ministry extended housing and financial support for teens set to age out of the foster care system; supports will remain in place for youth set to age out at 19 until March 31, 2022. Dean said that timeline will be re-evaluated if the pandemic persists. 

While she commends the province for the work they've done, Montani said some of the changes have been "incremental." 

"There's more to be done," she said.

With files from The Early Edition and On The Coast

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