VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The pandemic isn’t helping B.C.’s child poverty rate as one in five kids in this province are living in the lowest income threshold, according to a report card released Wednesday.
Adrienne Montani who speaks for First Call, a child advocacy group behind 2020 B.C. Child Poverty Report Card, says things haven’t improved much in the past year — with that rate remaining stagnant. And she says the pandemic is only causing more harm.
For families raising kids with special needs, barriers are even greater.
“They really took a hit during COVID… some of them were already low income and so they depended a lot on external programs, getting kids out to drop-in programs or neighbourhood house programs… and suddenly couldn’t,” she says.
“And then for families that were not poor, that same thing happened to them, with having with children with special needs — having to keep them home because of safety, health.”
In addition to children with disabilities — Indigenous children, new immigrant children, and children in visible or racialized minority groups all have much higher poverty rates than the B.C. average.
Montani adds many families have had to weigh economic security over the safety of their child.
“Not sending them to school when it reopened, many of them made that choice, many people lost their jobs of course during COVID.”
She says this is a problem that won’t go away overnight, as poverty impacts children’s health into their adulthood.
“People are worried about the economic impact of spending or supporting families who have low wages or [are] on income assistance… it actually saves us. Those children will be better off and be better able to contribute and meet their full potential in the future,” she says.
“We always want to remind people that that poverty is really expensive to pick it up at that end, when people are struggling in crisis it affects their mental health, affects their nutrition. And the more we let that happen, the more it costs us as a society as a whole.”
One thing she says has come out of the pandemic — we’re paying more attention to supporting people who are at the bottom of the income scale.
“When the government responded to economic fragility… for people who lost their jobs during this pandemic — we saw the difference it made in people’s lives, even for families on income assistance to get an additional top-up of $300 a month… and I consider that quite a small increase,” she says.
She’s also recommending the provincial government stick with its plan to offer publicly funded childcare.
“They really need to keep up the momentum on that because that’s a great poverty solution for parents, where one parent can’t work, or the only parent can’t work.”
The report makes 26 recommendations to all three levels of government, including the following for the province:
- Index the B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit to the annual inflation rate;
- Continue to prioritize new child care investments in the 2021 budget and beyond;
- Continue increased investments in affordable housing and tie rent control to the unit to remove the incentive for evictions of current tenants to raise the rent for new tenants;
- Collaborate with First Nations, Métis and Inuit governments and Indigenous organizations to develop plans to prevent, reduce and eradicate child and family poverty in Indigenous communities;
- Automatically enroll all young people transitioning out of government care in an income support program that meets their basic living costs;
- Ensure all workers in B.C. are covered by the hourly minimum wage by the end of 2021 and have a legislated right to paid sick leave; and
- Increase income and disability assistance rates, including increases for families with a child with disabilities.
You can read the full report here:First_Call_Report_Card_2020_Dec_web_final