The provincial NDP government aims to reduce poverty by 25 per cent overall, and child poverty by 50 per cent, over the next five years in B.C. after unveiling this province’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy in Surrey on Monday.
Shane Simpson, provincial minister of social development and poverty reduction, unveiled the much-anticipated strategy at Options Early Years Centre, at 6846 King George Blvd. in Newton. Dubbed TogetherBC, the plan is designed to lift 140,000 people – 50,000 children among them – out of poverty.
“This is a living plan that will be dynamic,” Simpson said. “We’re going to make the lives of hundreds of thousands of people better.”
Once initial targets are met, he said, new ones will be set.
“Surrey is an important, growing community. It’s a community where we’ve seen a number of issues that come with growth, and with people who are struggling with poverty and with other issues,” Simpson told the Now-Leader. “And we’ve seen a community that has responded very well, and that we’ve partnered with.”
“Surrey’s a community that’s dynamic, where there are a lot of people working to keep their heads above water, so it just seemed to be a good place to do it,” he said of Monday’s announcement.
According to Citizens for Public Justice’s annual report on poverty in Canada – “Poverty Trends 2018” – Nunavut has the highest poverty rate in Canada at 29 per cent, followed by Manitoba at 20.7 per cent and British Columbia at 18.7 per cent. As for the nation’s major cities, Vancouver has the highest poverty rate at 20.4 per cent, followed by Toronto at 20 per cent then Windsor and Abbotsford-Mission, at 18.2 per cent.
B.C.’s Bill 39 – Poverty Reduction Strategy Act – was passed last fall, unanimously, with legislated targets and timelines. It’s based on affordability, opportunity, social inclusion and reconciliation.
Simpson has been pumping up his government’s poverty reduction plan in Surrey prior to Monday’s announcement, telling a Surrey Board of Trade luncheon at the Civic Hotel in Whalley on March 1 that “people in Surrey and in other communities who are vulnerable, who are struggling, have been challenged in very real ways over the past number of years. We need to do better.”
The strategy highlights six priority areas: affordable housing, support for families, children and youth, expanding access to education and training, creating more opportunities for people, improving income supports and investing in social inclusion.
Some highlights with a 2024 or earlier target date are extra support for 290,000 families under the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit, raising minimum wage to $15.20 by 2021, and an Affordable Child Care Benefit to help some 80,000 families.
Roughly 27,000 families earning less than $45,000 annually will eventually pay “little or nothing” for child care, and 195,000 people relying on income and disability assistance will benefit from an $1,800 annual rate increase, and improving access to dental care for “people in need” through a $3.6 million grant to the BC Dental Association.
Simpson noted that until now B.C. was the only province that didn’t have a long-term strategy for poverty reduction.
Statistics Canada figures for 2016 indicated roughly 557,000 were people living in poverty in B.C.
Tabitha Naismith is Newton chairwoman of BC ACORN and secretary of ACORN Canada’s national board, which advocates for the less fortunate. She was also among 13 members of the minister’s advisory committee.
Naismith told the Now-Leader she’s “really super-duper excited” about the poverty reduction plan, which she helped work on for about 18 months.
“I like how he chose Newton,” she said of its unveiling. “I think with the rent caps, and all the units they’ve promised for affordable housing – the fact that he has 37 units of housing in play now that are going to be built by the provincial government is I think a small step in the right direction.”
What’s next, Naismith said, is to “keep pushing forward, hold the government accountable. I mean, he’s promising to reduce overall general poverty by 25 per cent over the next five years and child poverty by 50 per cent over the next five years.
“With this new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit I think it’s going to really help reach that target for parents that are struggling to raise children living in poverty.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, noted that the board was the only business association on the BC Poverty Reduction Forum and said the plan unveiled Monday is a “mix of previous and new initiatives, coalescing everything into one economic strategy to put a path forward to reduce poverty.
“It is not going to be easy, but one step at a time will hopefully lead to positive outcomes,” Huberman said. “Skills shortage remains an economic impediment not only locally but nationally. We need all Canadians to receive the supports that they need and to ensure that they have access to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.”