For thousands throughout British Columbia, poverty is a day-to-day reality that leaves them struggling to pay rent and feed their families. Poverty is not merely a problem for individual citizens, but is also extremely costly for governments. In fact, many countries spend more paying for the consequences of poverty than on poverty reduction policies themselves. Thus, it is evident why British Columbia’s poverty rate, which remains one of the highest in all of Canada, is such a prominent cause for concern and demands immediate action.
Despite being one of the most prosperous provinces in all of Canada, BC is notably lacking in basic areas such as health and childcare. Many people remain unaware of exactly how far behind BC is compared to other provinces and the vast disparity between rich and poor. Did you know that BC has the highest rate of income inequality in Canada? The richest ten per cent of families in BC control 56 per cent of the province’s wealth. It is facts like these that help develop an understanding of wealth inequality and the poverty rate in BC, which has remained one of the highest in all of Canada for thirteen years.
Even with these statistics, there still remains no definite plan for tackling the problem directly in contrast to other provinces that have already implemented poverty reduction plans. It’s time for us to step up and address the situation, while working to make things better for everyone living in BC.
To give you an idea of poverty in BC:
- Almost half a million people, or 10 per cent of the population, live in poverty.
- The child poverty rate is higher than the national average, with one in five children living in poverty and one in three of those children living in families with at least one adult working full-time, all year for minimum wage.
- The minimum wage currently stands at $10.45 per hour. On September 15, 2016 it will rise 40 cents to $10.85, resulting in BC no longer having the dubious distinction of lowest minimum wage in Canada. By 2017, the minimum wage will increase to $11.25.
Table 1. Significant gap between BC’s current $10.45 minimum wage and the poverty line
|Metro Vancouver||Cities with 100,000 to 499,999 inhabitants||Towns with 30,000
to 99,999 inhabitants
before tax (2015*)
|Minimum wage earnings
|Dollars above the
* Calculated from Statistics Canada’s published LICO-BT for 2013, adjusting for 2% inflation in 2014 and assuming only 0.5% inflation in 2015.
So why is the situation in BC still so bad? Simply put, it’s due to faults in our capitalist economic system, as well as negligence to take care of those below the poverty line. The welfare rate sitting at $610 a month for an individual and the minimum wage of $10.45 per hour are too meagre to keep families above the poverty line. Lack of investment in social spending, the presence of large gender wage gaps and regressive taxation also contribute to the problem.
By now you should have a clear picture of how bad the poverty situation is in BC. After facing these facts, what are possible measures that could be implemented to combat BC’s poverty rate?
Raise the minimum wage further
It is clear that the minimum wage as it stands now in BC is not enough, even with the increase. Legislating a living wage would undoubtedly be one of the most powerful tools for addressing poverty. The living wage reflects what a family needs in order to survive while covering the actual costs of living and ultimately allows families to escape poverty and severe financial stress. It currently stands at $20.64 per hour in Metro Vancouver.
End regressive taxation
The richest 20 percent of households in BC pay a lower total provincial tax rate than everyone else. A fair and equitable provincial tax system would better address poverty.
Focus on marginalized groups
Groups known to persistently suffer from poverty include Aboriginals, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, single mothers, senior women and other forgotten minorities. Measures should be implemented to adequately address the struggles marginalized groups face. This may include increasing disability welfare rates in correlation to rising inflation and guaranteeing income assistance to all people.
Create an affordable childcare program
Long waitlists and high costs for childcare place serious strain on families throughout BC, especially families living in poverty. Boards of trade in Surrey and Burnaby have called for $10 per day full-time childcare. A subsidized childcare program should be a priority.
Support those who are unemployed
As of right now, the income assistance system in BC is broken. People are often denied assistance and, even after navigating the complex barriers to welfare, are given only the bare-essentials to stay alive. Keep in mind that welfare is only $610 for a single person, and $906 for an individual with a disability every month. With the high cost of renting in BC, particularly in Metro Vancouver, barely any money is left for food and other necessities.
Address housing affordability for renters
As the cost of homeownership spirals upwards, the plight of renters is often overlooked. Maximum allowable rent increases set by the provincial government are supposed to protect renters from sharp rent increases, but the fixed-term lease loophole allows landlords to circumvent rent controls. Ending this loophole would be a first step in addressing housing affordability for renters.
So what can YOU do to help?
- Join the call – add your voice to the demand for a legislated BC poverty reduction plan.
- Email the premier or meet your MLA, and ask them about their opinion on poverty and demand legislation that includes a Poverty Reduction Plan.
- Use the hash tag #RethinkPoverty to pass on the message to end poverty in BC and bring more awareness to the issue.
Want to find out more? Click here to view a Poverty Reduction Plan proposed by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
By Angela Tian
* All views expressed in this blog post belong to the author and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.