Reducing poverty 'the right thing to do': B.C. minister
The B.C. government officially launched a poverty reduction strategy Monday, although much of a 48-page document rehashes work already completed since the NDP took power in 2017.
Named "TogetherBC," the first-ever strategy aims to lift adults and children out of poverty. The goal is an overall reduction by 25 per cent and a 50 per cent reduction for kids. The government aims to achieve this goal by 2024, as required by law.
The reduction is based on Stats Canada estimates from 2016, suggesting 557,000 people including 99,000 kids were living in poverty. The province enshrined poverty reduction into law in fall 2018.
- Previous coverage: Anti-poverty groups say B.C.'s budget has left them hanging
“There are a lot of reasons to reduce poverty: because it’s the right thing to do, because we care about our neighbours, because we care about what kind of world we want to leave behind for our children,” said Social Development Minister Shane Simpson at an event in Surrey to launch the program.
The key pillars of the action plan include affordability, opportunity, reconciliation, and social inclusion. Simpson says the combined efforts in the plan will put hundreds of millions of dollars back in the pockets of individuals and families, and that money will be spent in local communities. Asked about the total cost of the program, he says over the lifetime of the plan and across government, it is estimated to be about $4 billion.
Simpson says progress is already being made thanks to the introduction of an enhanced Child Opportunity Benefit, hikes to minimum wage, expanding affordable child care, increasing social assistance rates and maximizing federal support.
A committee studying the idea of a basic income will report back to government in 2020.
Actions outlined in TogetherBC
The government says it intends to bulk up programs and make changes to help lift people out of poverty. One shift means the definition of a spouse will be someone you live with for one year and not three months. Previously, after three months of living together two people would get the couples rate.
Previously, after three months of living together two people would get the couples rate. In the fall, the government plans to provide a supplement to renters to cover pet damage deposits.
It will also eliminate how many deposits a person can access. There will be higher asset limits for those who require income assistance, and now people with cars valued more than $10,000 won’t need to sell them to secure the support.
Outlining some of the work that’s already taking place, the government highlighted some measures you may already be familiar with.
In term of housing, that includes things like linking rent increases to rates of inflation, closing a loophole around fixed-term leases and building more affordable housing units.
When it comes to supporting families, the $10/day child care prototypes, increases to foster care and home care rates, plus an expanded tuition waiver program for kids who have been in care are some of the strategies mentioned.
Eliminating interest on B.C. student loans, axing tuition fees for Adult Basic Education and English-language learners are some of the measures announced to help on the education side.
In terms of affordability – a recurring theme for the NDP government – eliminating MSP premiums, better consumer protections around payday loans, and getting rid of bridge toll are some of the other areas highlighted.
Critics: Plan doesn't go far enough
The opposition Liberals called the plan “underwhelming,” claiming it took more than a year and upwards of $1 million to develop a plan that comes with few, if any, new ideas. In a news release, MLA Marvin Hunt slammed the government for not acknowledging how new taxes they introduced have raised the cost of living in B.C.
The NDP’s power-sharing partners, the Greens, applaud the step, but said they’re worried some of the actions are popular in nature and not necessarily good public policy.
“A higher minimum wage alone fails to provide financial security to those faced with precarious jobs in contract work and for those with fewer hours,” said Green MLA Sonia Furstenau in a statement.
What comes next
The minister says this plan is a living document and is a first step in achieving goals. The government says it is still committed to a $400 renters rebate, as well as finding ways to offer those in poverty better access good quality, food.
Simpson says he’ll be watching for potential benefits coming out of Tuesday’s federal budget. This being an election year, the expectation is heightened that there may be “goodies” or supports to help those in need.
The government plans to report back on progress made by Oct. 1 of each year.