Holly is a single mother of two, Ezra, 13, and Emily, 17. Emily is a complex kid with multiple health and developmental challenges, including Down Syndrome. Emily is reliant on a feeding tube and since she was born Holly has been her round-the-clock caregiver. Unable to return to work, Holly relies on social assistance.
Emily needs special medical equipment, a variety of therapies and must travel monthly to B.C. Children’s Hospital from the family’s home in Nanaimo. While they have been fortunate to receive support from charities to cover some costs, living on social assistance means this family lives in deep poverty.
Holly’s situation is not unique. First Call has been tracking child and family poverty rates in B.C. for over two decades and our 23rd annual Child Poverty Report Card, released this week, still shows one in five B.C. children lived in poverty in 2017. That means 163,730 children and youth were living in poor households, including 51,760 children under the age of six.
Overall, B.C. had the eighth highest child poverty rate of all the provinces and territories. At just over 19 per cent, B.C.’s child poverty rate was slightly higher than the national child poverty rate of 18.5 per cent.
For the first time since 2009, the number of poor children in lone-parent families increased, from 81,960 in 2016 to 86,690 in 2017. This is the first time we have seen children in lone-parent families make up more than half of B.C.’s poor children.
The gender inequality gap persisted with the median income for female lone-parent households at $44,960 and the median income for male lone-parent households at $62,550.
Many of the regional districts with the highest child poverty rates were located in coastal areas, particularly along the north and central coastal areas. Indigenous children, new immigrant children, children in visible or racialized minority groups and those with disabilities all have much higher poverty rates than the B.C. average.
In 2017, a single parent with one child living on social assistance survived on only $19,795 per year, 40 per cent below the poverty line. Unfortunately, the average number of children living in households on social assistance rose by 1,900 between 2016 and 2017. And, like Holly, for most of these families (66 per cent), working is not an option.
However, the story of most family poverty in B.C. is one where one or more parents are working. Many families raising children on minimum-wage jobs, often without benefits, are still far below the poverty line.
Overall, the median after-tax income for a poor lone parent with one child in 2017 was $17,920, more than $12,000 below the poverty line. The median income for poor couple family with two children was $30,540, almost $14,000 below the poverty line.
Over the past few years both federal and provincial governments have taken steps in the right direction, including a more generous Canada Child Benefit and B.C.’s new Child Opportunity Benefit, set to kick in this fall.
Government has an opportunity here to raise all families (those with working parents and those on social assistance) over the poverty line through the combined income transfer programs currently in place. Better universal public services like affordable housing and child care, along with free or low-cost public transportation access, would also reduce a family’s expenses and improve their quality of life.
In fact, there is recent evidence showing the nominal increase in the CCB resulted in decreased food insecurity for families while making a substantial contribution to Canada’s economy.
So while we’re cautiously optimistic about governments’ plans, the 2017 Child Poverty Report Card shows us there is so much more to be done to ensure all children have what they need to thrive. Having a child with complex needs or working full time at minimum wage or living with a disability should not be a ticket to poverty for B.C.’s families.
Adrienne Montani is provincial co-ordinator at First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.
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