Annual report shows BC child poverty rate has fallen due to COVID-19 support
One advocacy group says child poverty in British Columbia fell in 2020 due to government benefits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but any progress could be offset by the rising cost of living.
The First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Society’s BC Child Poverty Report Card shows that for the first time in 20 years, BC had a lower child poverty rate than the national average, with a record low of one in eight children in the province living in poverty compared to one in five in 2019.
The province’s child poverty rate was 13.3 percent in 2020, down from 18 percent in 2019 and just above the national rate of 13.5 percent.
First Call uses Statistics Canada income and census data to produce its annual report.
Though the statistics are positive, the child and youth advocacy coalition largely credits the financial benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic to lifting many families above the poverty line in that particular year. Those state benefits have now ended, and with the cost of living soaring, the coalition fears progress will not last.
“This is a year of blips, but it’s a learning year,” First Call executive director Adrienne Montani said on CBC The early edition Tuesday morning.
She said without government transfers in 2020, which included both regular child and family benefits and pandemic relief, BC’s poverty rate for that year would have been about 30 percent.
First Nations, immigrants are BC’s most vulnerable children
While the report shows the largest drop in child poverty rates in a year since 2000, one in eight children still lived in poverty, and the report says rates among children living on First Nation reservations and those who were recently living have declined , “dramatically higher” had immigrated.
According to the report, the average child poverty rate on the reservations was from 59 per cent. 29.2 percent, more than double the overall child poverty rate. If the data is isolated to rural reservations, that figure is even higher, at 33.9 percent.
“The enduring legacy of colonialism is still very evident in these numbers,” the report said. “Governments at all levels must meaningfully work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit governments to develop and implement plans to prevent, reduce and eliminate child and family poverty.”
Immigrant children are also at higher risk of living in poverty in BC, with one in five recent immigrant children living in poverty as of 2020.
Children in single-parent families also consistently suffer from higher poverty rates. In 2020, the child poverty rate for children living with a single parent was 38.3 percent, about six times higher than for children living in couples.
Along with the data, First Call made 25 recommendations to all levels of government to give poor children in that province a better chance of success.
These include increasing income and disability benefits, paying living wages, ensuring universal maternity and paternity benefits, automatically enrolling young people who leave foster care into an income support program, providing adequate funding for reserve child benefits, and increasing the Funds for social and affordable housing benefits.
Montani said access to affordable childcare is also crucial.
“The majority of poor children still live with families who work,” she said.
All 25 recommendations are described in detail from page 36 of the 40-page report.
Social Development and Poverty Alleviation Minister Sheila Malcolmson said she had read the report and knew inflation was hitting people hard this year.
“Although we have exceeded our statutory poverty reduction targets, we are very aware that many people are suffering right now,” she said.
The NDP government unveiled its poverty reduction strategy in 2019, aiming to reduce overall poverty by 25 percent and child poverty by 50 percent by 2024. Malcolmson said she will soon launch a public consultation to reconsider the strategy.
“We know that we have to do more,” said the minister.