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Child poverty has decreased in BC during COVID-19 relief

Child poverty decreased in British Columbia in 2020 due to provincial and federal government subsidies provided in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but any progress could be undone by rising cost of living, says an advocacy group.

BC’s annual child poverty report card from the First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Society shows the child poverty rate in 2020 was 13.3%, a decrease from 18% in 2019 and the largest one-year decline since 2000 .

But one in eight children were still living in poverty, and the report says the blanket statistics hide the fact that some BC children are more at risk than others.

Poverty rates in 2020 were notably higher among children living on First Nation reservations, those who recently immigrated, children from certain racialized groups and those living in single-parent households, the report said.

The advocacy firm looked at data from 59 of the more than 200 First Nations in BC and found that the child poverty rate was just over 29%. The average rate on rural reserves was higher than the rate among urban reserves, the report noted.

The poverty rate for children in single-parent families was just over 38%, more than six times the rate for those in families with a couple.

The report said that 80% of single parent households were headed by women in 2020.

Their median income was about $54,600, she says, and finding affordable, quality child care remains one of the most common hurdles single mothers face.

The analysis found that regional districts on the outer coast of BC and parts of Vancouver Island had the highest rates of child poverty, with the districts of Alberni-Clayoquot, Bulkley Nechako and the Capital occupying the top three spots in the whole province.

All provinces and territories experienced large decreases in child poverty rates between 2019 and 2020 due to the benefits of the pandemic, the report said. Without continued investment in children and families, he says rates will likely rise again.

“In 2023, households will face record inflation,” said the report released on Tuesday.

“Progress made towards reducing both the rate and depth of household poverty in 2020 could be undone entirely by rising costs in 2023.”

BC Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Sheila Malcolmson says she has read the report and knows that inflation is hitting people hard this year.

“Even though we have exceeded our legislative poverty reduction targets, we are very aware that many people are suffering right now,” she said in an interview.

The NDP government introduced its Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2019, aiming to reduce overall poverty by 25% and child poverty by 50% from 2016 levels by 2024.

Malcolmson says he will soon launch a public consultation to revisit the strategy.

“We know we have to do more,” says the minister.

The First Call report also points to growing income inequality in the province, noting that the top 10 percent of BC households with children had nearly the same income as the bottom 50 percent of households combined.

The report makes 25 recommendations to provincial, federal and local governments in areas including wage, income and disability support and targeted initiatives for groups overrepresented in poverty data.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 14, 2023.

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