THE Province on Monday announced its first poverty reduction strategy, TogetherBC, that outlines programs and initiatives that will help reduce overall poverty in the province by 25%, and cut child poverty in half, over the next five years.
“Together, we can build a fairer province by bringing down barriers and giving people the services and supports they need to break out of the cycle of poverty,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “TogetherBC is our roadmap for a better British Columbia, where everyone, regardless of their background or income, is treated with dignity and has access to opportunity.”
“For too long, too many people in British Columbia have been left out and left behind,” said Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary for Poverty Reduction. “With TogetherBC, we’re tackling the discrimination and stigma that keep people from reaching their full potential so we can build a province we can all be proud of – one that’s more inclusive and more affordable for everyone.”
Using a 2016 baseline, the strategy aims to lift 140,000 people out of poverty, including 50,000 children. Further poverty reduction goals will be established as these targets are met.
Developed with feedback received through an extensive provincial consultation, the strategy is anchored by a number of key initiatives including the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit and Childcare BC, as well as other actions that will increase household incomes.
TogetherBC ties together actions government has taken to increase affordability, increase access to opportunity and reduce poverty since 2017, under six priority areas:
1. affordable housing
2. supports for families, children and youth
3. expanding access to education and training
4. more opportunities for people
5. improving income supports
6. investing in social inclusion
A Poverty Reduction Advisory Committee has been appointed to advise the minister on matters relating to poverty reduction and prevention. This advisory committee includes advocates, experts, Indigenous peoples and people with lived experience from around the province.
This committee also serves an important oversight role. Under the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act, government is required to report out on progress to reach its five-year targets each year, starting in 2020. The committee will include a letter in each of these reports, outlining its views on progress made and progress required.
“People created poverty, and it’s up to people to solve poverty,” said Sarah Brownlee, a member of the committee. “I have experienced poverty first-hand, I have seen my friends and family experience it and I have seen the destructive consequences of lack of opportunity and access. As the poverty reduction strategy moves forward, I will be making sure that the voices of those with lived experience are represented and heard.”
“Poverty reduction is about putting people and communities first,” said Catherine Ludgate, Chair of the committee. “It is good for individuals, families, communities and our economy. Creating opportunities for people to participate fully and with dignity requires us to invest thoughtfully in programs, policies and procedures to tackle poverty. I look forward to supporting government in this critically important work.”
B.C.’s first poverty reduction strategy is a shared priority developed in consultation with the BC Green Party caucus, and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement. The strategy includes the work of the Fair Wages Commission and Basic Income Expert Committee, work that will continue to be reflected as the strategy evolves and is updated in coming years.
“If we are going to be everything we can be, then we must address poverty,” said Simpson. “After so many years of social priorities being ignored and underfunded, we know we can’t solve this overnight, but we have set the course and I look forward to working across all sectors to address the breadth and depth of poverty. Poverty is a complex problem, yes, and it’s one that we can solve.”
BC Liberal MLA Marvin Hunt reacted to the announcement by calling on the BC NDP to take meaningful action to combat poverty in British Columbia. He called the poverty reduction strategy “an underwhelming poverty reduction plan – which took 15 months and $1.2 million to develop.”
“After nearly two years in office, the NDP has released its long-awaited poverty reduction plan – except there’s nothing new in this plan to actually help people out of poverty,” said Hunt, Social Development and Poverty Reduction critic and Surrey-Cloverdale MLA. “This reads more like another NDP re-announcement than a substantive government strategy.”
Hunt noted the NDP’s plan contains significant gaps – offering no plan for economic growth and ignoring the importance of well-paying jobs for British Columbians’ financial security. The strategy also contains no mention of the 19 new or increased taxes the NDP has introduced since taking office, which raise the cost of living in British Columbia.
“The Premier himself admits British Columbians are working two or three jobs just to get by,” said Hunt. “But instead of tackling this unacceptable situation, Premier Horgan and his government seem to be using this strategy as an opportunity to pat themselves on the back. British Columbians need more than a redistribution of money. They need access to opportunities, and the NDP is failing to deliver.”
Quick Facts (2016 Market Basket Measure):
* British Columbia has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country and has for decades; it also has the second-highest overall poverty rate in Canada.
* About 40% of people living below the poverty line are working.
* B.C.’s child poverty rate is above the national average, with approximately 99,000 children living in poverty in B.C.
* Children who live in single-parent families are more than three times more likely to live in poverty than children in two-parent families.
* The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act, which embedded the poverty reduction targets and timelines in law, was passed unanimously in November 2018.