First Call Child Poverty Report Card: Worst in Canada


First Call BC’s recently released 2013 BC Child Poverty Report Card Highlights:

  • BC’s child poverty rate increased again in 2011 to 18.6 per cent, using the LICO before tax measure. This again makes BC’s rate the highest of any province, and higher than the Canadian average of 13.3 per cent, according to the latest figures published by Statistics Canada.
  • The number of poor children was 153,000 - or about one of every five BC children.  About half, or 77,000, of these children lived in Metro Vancouver.
  • The dramatic rise in the rate for children in female lone parent families from 21.5 per cent in 2010 to 50% in 2011 is particularly alarming.
  • BC also had the most unequal distribution of income among rich and poor families with children.  The ratio of the average incomes of the richest ten percent compared to the poorest ten percent was the largest of any province at 12.6 to one.

Other key findings in the report include:

  • BC also had the worst poverty rate at 14 per cent of any province for children living in two-parent families.
  • In 2011, 32 per cent of the poor children in BC – 44,500 children – lived in families with at least one adult working full-time, full-year, exposing the problem of low-wage jobs. 
  • Most poor families with children live many thousands of dollars below the poverty line.  In 2011, poor two-parent families had incomes $14,000 below the poverty line on average and poor single mother families were $9,000 below the line on average.
  • For BC families, government transfers reduced the poverty rate using only market income from 27.1 per cent to 18.6 per cent, a decrease of 31 per cent.  Other provinces accomplished larger percentage reductions.

The report proposes a range of solutions that fall within the scope of both provincial and federal government policies. These are all proposals that have strong support within First Call BC’s broad, cross-sectoral coalition and among the general public. Chief among them is the call for BC to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with specific targets and timelines for their achievement.

Adrienne Montani, provincial co-ordinator of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, and Dr. John Millar, vice president of the Public Health Association of B.C., a UBC clinical professor emeritus and a member of First Call’s co-ordinating committee, were invited to write a column on the report for the Province newspaper.  They summarize the report as follows:

“The 2013 B.C. Child Poverty Report Card, published by First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, again contains a list of shameful statistics for our wealthy province compared to the rest of the country: highest child poverty rate (18.6 per cent); highest under-age-six poverty rate (21 per cent); highest two-parent family poverty rate (14 per cent); and highest single-mother family poverty rate (50 per cent). Yes, you read that last one right — one in every two children in single-mother families in B.C. is poor.

All of these 2011 statistics, the latest data available, represent an increase from 2010. The most dramatic increase was among children in single-mother families, from 22 per cent to 50 per cent. Other Statistics Canada data show median market income for female-led, lone-parent families dropped from $32,000 to $21,500. No wonder their poverty rate soared.

What’s driving high child-poverty rates? Contrary to common perceptions, most poor children in B.C. live with parents who work; almost a third of them have at least one parent working full time, full year. Children’s poverty in B.C. is primarily a reflection of their parents’ low wages and precarious jobs.

It’s also a reflection of the fact that B.C. has the most unequal distribution of income among rich and poor families with children. The primary reason B.C. had the largest ratio of incomes between the top 10 per cent and the bottom 10 per cent (12.6 to one) was the very low incomes among families in the poorest group of families, averaging only $18,000 per year.

Child and family poverty has a devastating effect on children. It impedes their ability to learn and impairs their health. Children living in poverty are less likely to do well in school, finish high school and are more likely to become street involved or become pregnant at an early age. They are more vulnerable to being drawn into drug and alcohol use and criminal behaviour.

Poverty in B.C. is costing the taxpayer $8 billion to $9 billion per year in higher health care, policing and crime costs and lost productivity, while poverty could be eliminated for about $3 billion to $4 billion per year, according to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Despite these statistics, B.C. stands out among the provinces for having done the least to reduce child poverty through government action.”

They end the article with two targeted recommendations:

  1. To the provincial government:  “It’s time for the provincial government and federal MPs to look at the evidence of what’s happening to children and families in B.C. …. Affordable housing, affordable quality child care, better employment protections for vulnerable workers, improved access to education and training for low-income earners, better supports for young families, welfare rates and policies that help families move forward — these are just some of the places where governments can act.”
  2. To the business community:  “… it’s time for the business community to consider what it can contribute. A living wage for all workers would go a long way to reducing child and family poverty. It is simply unacceptable that one out of every five B.C. children is living in poverty.”

The report has received wide-spread newspaper coverage, along with televised coverage by Global News and CBC.

Lindsay Kines, writing in the Victoria Times Colonist on November 26, quotes Richard FitzZaland, Executive Director of the Federation of Community Social Services of BC as saying their “agencies are stretched to the breaking point trying to help growing numbers of children and families.  ‘Families are stressed, children are doing without.  I mean, just look around and if you don’t see it, then you’re living in a bubble.  Personally, I’m ashamed to live in a society where we allow this situation to exist.”

Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun columnist, wrote on November 26, in response to the release of the report: “It’s a shameful and longstanding distinction that a greater percentage of B.C. children live in poverty than anywhere else in Canada, and 2011 was no exception.  You can argue over which Statistics Canada data to use — low-income after tax or before tax, market basket measure, or the deprivation index.  But it doesn’t alter the fact that British Columbia’s record is abysmal.”

Moreover, she writes, “Preschoolers are way more likely than any other children to be living in poverty. Put a different way: One in five kids under the age of six likely doesn’t get enough food to eat, isn’t properly clothed or housed.  At 21 per cent, that’s eight percentage point higher than the national average, and nearly three percentage points higher than the B.C. average.  What makes that statistic so awful is that it is well-documented and even frequently acknowledged by politicians that the early years are crucially important to a child’s emotional, mental, social and physical development.  Poverty often robs those preschoolers of the opportunity to reach their highest potential, get a good job and live to a healthy old age. As a society, allowing them to grow up in poverty means that we have already forfeited a generation of workers and potentially engaged citizens and taxpayers.”

She quotes Ted Bruce, Vancouver Coastal Health’s executive director of population health, who says, “’Investment in poverty reduction is an investment in health and probably the best investment you can make in health-care prevention.’   Among the statistics that Bruce gave are these: Lower-income children are 1.7 times more likely to go to hospital for asthma-related problems; poor people are twice as likely to have serious illnesses and die as much as a decade before high-income earners; and, as the report notes, the gap between rich and poor in British Columbia is greater than in any other province.”

First Call’s overarching recommendation is for the BC government to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines and a cabinet minister with the authority and responsibility to ensure government is achieving its targets on time. They recommend the plan contain a goal to reduce BC’s child poverty rate to 7 percent or lower by 2020.

Recognizing that children of recent immigrants, Aboriginal children, children of female lone-parent families, children in racialized families and children with a disability, are at greater risk of living in poverty, they recommend that poverty reduction efforts should also be targeted to achieve major reductions in these populations, with the authority and responsibility to ensure government is achieving its targets on time. They recommend the plan contain a goal to reduce BC’s child poverty rate to 7 percent or lower by 2020.

For those wanting to take individual or group action to support the recommendations put forward in the report, First Call makes the following suggestions:

  • Show you want action by endorsing the recommendations in the report card
  • Write to your MLA and the Premier letting them know that you support First Call’s recommendations
  • Share the report card with your family, friends and co-workers, and ask them to endorse the recommendations
  • Share the report card and infographics with your networks on Facebook and Twitter (the news is already spreading, yesterday @FirstCallBC was trending in Canada and #worstinca was trending in Vancouver!)
  • Help us mobilize support for a poverty reduction plan for BC by joining the call by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition for a legislated BC poverty reduction plan
  • Support certified Living Wage Employers who are committed to ensuring their employees are paid living wages

Read the First Call BC Child Poverty Report Card.