Enough is enough

100 Mile House Free Press

Opinion by Adrienne Montani, provincial co-ordinator of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

New figures released for 2011 show British Columbia had the highest child poverty rate in Canada for the ninth time in 10 years at 11.3% – representing 93,000 children.

The poverty rate for children living with single mothers in B.C. jumped from 16.4% in 2010 to 24.6% in 2011 – 27,000 children.

The poverty rate for B.C. children in two-parent families rose from 7.7% in 2010 to 9.4% in 2011. The number of poor children in two-parent families rose by 10,000 to 61,000.

These numbers are based on the most conservative measure of child poverty, the Low Income Cut-off After-tax. This measure defines families as poor in a rural community, such as 100 Mile House, if their after-tax income is less than $23,879 for a family of four and less than $15,371 for a family of two.

The Market Basket Measure compares family after-tax income against actual living costs by geographical regions. On this measure, B.C.’s child poverty rate is 21.1%, representing one in five children. It sets the low income threshold for a family of four in rural B.C. at $36,421, and for a family of two at $25,750.

Whatever measure is used, the figures show too many B.C. families with children are struggling with incomes thousands of dollars below these various thresholds.

In day-to-day life this means two-parent families struggling on one income because quality, affordable child care is not available for them, or single parents unable to work at all for the same reason. It means parents having to choose between paying rent and healthy food. It means chronic high stress that can put a strain on family re lationships.

Growing up in poverty threatens children’s health, education, and future job prospects. B.C.’s growing inequality and high child poverty rate is creating an unhealthy society with higher costs for everyone.

The newly elected B.C. Liberal government has promised to share the economic benefits of the province with everyone. However, the 2013 provincial budget contains no policy changes or significant investments that will help families struggling with inadequate incomes now.

The promised Early Childhood Tax Benefit won’t materialize until April 2015 and $660/year won’t come close to lifting most poor children out of poverty when poor families are living on incomes $10,000 or more below the poverty line.

First Call is a non-partisan coalition focused on promoting B.C. children’s rights and well-being. We propose solutions to reduce child poverty that include urging employers to consider their role in reducing poverty among their employees by paying a living wage.

We’re calling on government to increase welfare rates and index them and the minimum wage to the cost of living; to implement the $10/Day Child Care Plan; to invest in more social housing; and to restore funding to the public education system and improve access to post-secondary education without high student debt.