The child-poverty rates in B.C. and other provinces remain stubbornly high 25 years after the House of Commons passed a resolution to eliminate child poverty in Canada.
The rate in B.C. climbed from 15.5 per cent in 1989 to 20.6 per cent in 2012.
Those findings, contained in an annual report card released Monday by advocacy group First Call, add to decades worth of studies that have documented an increase in child poverty in B.C. as the tally in some other provinces – including Quebec and Alberta – has decreased, although not by much.
"We have not made the progress we promised our children in Canada or in this province," Adrienne Montani, provincial co-ordinator with First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, said at a press conference at which the report card was released.
The report card includes 19 recommendations to address child poverty, including that the province stop its current policy of clawing back child-support payments made to single parents on income or disability assistance. That policy generated about $18-million for the province last year and helps pay for the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, through which the province monitors and enforces child and spousal-support agreements.
But parents and advocacy groups decry the clawback, calling it a cash grab that hurts families and children and a disincentive for parents to pay support. The opposition New Democratic Party has also criticized the policy. In October, a group of single mothers and their children, along with the Single Mothers' Alliance of B.C., filed a lawsuit against the province in the Supreme Court of B.C. in relation to the policy.
That court action, backed by the Community Legal Assistance Society, will argue that the deduction of child-support payments from income and disability assistance is unconstitutional for several reasons, including that the policy has a disproportionately negative impact on parents with disabilities and single mothers.
One such mother is Rebecca Bodo. A single parent on disability assistance, Ms. Bodo says her former partner pays $400 a month in child support. But that money is deducted from her monthly disability payment of about $1,200 – leaving her and her five-year-old daughter no further ahead.
Provincial regulations allow people on disability assistance to earn up to $800 a month before a clawback kicks in but Ms. Bodo says she is not currently able to work because of a mental-health issue. With an extra $400 a month in child support, "I could buy shoes," said Ms. Bodo, who attended the press conference to support First Call's work. "I could maybe go to a grocery store."
Currently, she relies primarily on food banks.
Clawback policies are a source of contention in other provinces, including Ontario, where child-support payments are, as in B.C., clawed back dollar for dollar. Quebec had similar policies in place but revised them to allow parents to keep a portion of child-support payments.
The report card found B.C. has a child-poverty rate of 21 per cent, higher than the national average of 19 per cent. About one in five children are considered to be living in poverty – the same proportion as in 1994, when First Call began tracking the data.
In the Central Coast Regional District, the child-poverty rate is 54.8 per cent. Other recommendations in the report include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, launching a $10-a-day child-care system and raising welfare rates.
In a statement, Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said "the government is working to maintain a balanced budget while providing the supports and services vulnerable British Columbians need" and that changes that require substantial additional costs, such as raising income-assistance rates, are not feasible in our current economic climate.