Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dismal child poverty record, and no plan to improve

The Clark government believes reducing the number of unnecessary regulations is important.
It doesn’t feel the same way about reducing child poverty.
That’s the obvious conclusion from the Liberals’ display of government priorities during the legislative session that wrapped up Thursday.
The Liberals introduced, debated and passed a new law — the Regulatory Reporting Act — that requires an annual report on the number of regulations added and removed during the year, and on initiatives to cut regulations.
Why? Because, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon told the legislature, it’s important — vital — for government “to be publicly accountable for progress or lack of progress” on reducing regulations. Only by measuring and reporting can the public be assured that progress is being made, he said.
But when it was reported that B.C. had the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for the eighth consecutive year, Premier Christy Clark rejected calls for a plan to address the problem, with targets, actions and a requirement for an annual report on “progress or lack of progress,” to use Falcon’s words.
Why no plan? Clark and the other ministers never offered a coherent reason.
Because there isn’t one.
The facts are clear. The annual national look at child poverty, released by First Call, an advocacy group, found that 12 per cent to 16.4 per cent of B.C. children were living in poverty in 2009. That’s the highest proportion of poor kids of any province, a dismal ranking B.C. has retained for eight years. (You can debate poverty measures, but the fact remains this province is the worst.)
So some 100,000 to 140,000 children are being raised in poverty, an increase of about 15 per cent from the previous year.
That’s bad for them; childhood poverty is linked to lifelong health issues, educational limitations, unemployment and a variety of other problems. And it’s bad for the province, since a large number of people will never make the contributions they could have.
Any competent manager — a title the Liberals like to claim — knows that progress starts with a plan. You set targets for improvements, develop action plans with expected outcomes, monitor and report on progress and make needed changes as you go.
Clark said the government doesn’t need a plan. It’s doing things like raising the minimum wage and providing housing supports and launching job strategies. Those will help reduce child poverty.
Maybe, though it’s an odd claim since the government has insisted for most of the last decade that raising the minimum wage wouldn’t reduce poverty.
But a bunch of random actions aren’t a plan. There’s no objective, even a modest one like moving B.C. from the worst in Canada to the seventh worst. There’s no estimate of the effect of any actions on reducing poverty.
And there’s no reporting or accountability. Reducing regulations, the government passed a law to make sure there would be real accountability there. Not for reducing the number of children living in poverty.
Children and Families Minister Mary McNeil says the government has “committed to working closely with municipalities” to develop regional poverty reduction plans. That might be useful, if it ever happens. But it should also be part of a provincial poverty plan, with targets and outcomes and public reporting on progress.
There’s nothing radical about the idea of developing a plan to reduce child poverty. Seven other provinces already have plans or are working on them. Alberta is expected to launch a plan. That would leave B.C. and Saskatchewan as the only provinces without a coherent plan to reduce child poverty.
The current approach isn’t working, despite some reductions in the number of poor children in recent years. If it was, B.C. wouldn’t still have the worst record in Canada.
Falcon’s Regulation Reporting Act passed into law on the last day of the session. That mattered to the government.
Poor kids are still waiting.
Footnote: A plan could make quick progress. About one-third of the children living in poverty have parents dependent on income assistance or disability benefits. (A single parent with two children who is deemed employable gets up to $660 a month for housing and another $623 a month for everything else.) Providing enough support to lift those children out of poverty, or allowing their parents to earn some money without losing benefits, would move B.C. into the top half of the rankings.


Anonymous said...

"despite some reductions in the number of poor children in recent years"?

I believe I recall hearing it was actually the other way around, Paul, with about a 15%increase between the years 2008/09 and little relief in the numbers since then. Sorry, the source escapes me.

Raymond Graham

DPL said...

They would rather spend our money on a leaking roof on the old stadium than helping poor kids and their families. And yes the roof is leaking and they got a real good price for it, in their twisted little minds

paul said...

Hey Raymond:
It was up about 15 per cent between 2008 and 2009, but the child poverty rate dropped through the middle part of the decade. But it also dropped in other provinces, so B.C. never rose from the bottom ranking.
(The report is at - quite an interesting read; much more than I got into in the column.)

scotty on Denman said...

When the BC Liberals won ten years ago I predicted children would be impoverished as a result and I was called a cynic. I absolutely take no pleasure at being proved right, year after year right up till now.

I remain cynical about the BC Liberals when I hear Christy Clark's "Families First" slogan mystically manifest in every pronouncement she makes. Yes, it is odd that after ten years of insisting that increasing minimum wages would do nothing to reduce poverty, the government now cites their belated decision to raise minimum wages as adequately addressing this serious problem. If "Families First" was a real policy instead of an insincere campaign slogan, and if Christy Clark was really party leader, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon would be finding money to increase regulatory oversight on "Family First" policy on things like, say, child poverty, instead of prioritizing legislation to decrease regulatory oversight across the board.

There won't be any cogency or competence coming from a divided BC Liberal party which is too preoccupied with what is looking more and more like an impending palace coup. As leader of the Campbellite faction, would-be Premier Kevin Falcon does his self-interested best to get regulatory oversight out of the way of cementing deals with insider buddies and shredding forensic audit evidence. Christy Clark would add that Kevin Falcon and special friends all have Families.

As long as the BC Liberals are in power, child poverty will get worse. Call me a cynic.

e,a,f, said...

The eighth year in a row you say. As long as the lieberals are in power, we will continue to be in last place when it comes to child poverty.

The lieberals don't care about child poverty. It is that simple. Their goals are to ensure they and their friends do well. Making lucrative deals for major corporations is more important than children living in poverty. I would suggest some members of government are so out of touch with reality they may actually think its o.k. and welfare pays enough if the parents just learnt to budget.

Suggesting they "partner" with local communities is not going to work. Some communities don't even want homeless shelters, come on down Courtenay, B.C. or affordable housing, come on down, Courtenay, B. C.

Some communities are just too poor to deal with the social issues the federal and provincial government have been downloading for the past 20 yrs.

There are parts of B.C. which are so impoverished they would qualify for aid from international organizations if they were a seperate country.

The Harperits aren't going to do anything about child poverty. All they do is give tax credits. To take advantage of a tax credit you first have to make money.

Welfare rates in B.C. are criminal. Parents can not house, feed, cloth, etc. their children on the alloted money. The refusal of the lieberals to increase welfare rates for children is Child Abuse.

By refusing to give parents enough money to adequately feed their children is forcing children to go hungry and inflicts all that which goes with hunger on the children. If well to do parents fed their children as little as the government allows for food for children on welfare, the well to do parents would be charged with Child neglect and abuse.

I would love to see someone actually charge the lieberal government ministers with child abuse. Arrest them, handcuff, them, throw them in a cell, and let the legal process take place.

With Christmas right around the corner we are hearing from all sorts of agencies how children need toys. Everybody feels bad, contributes but after Christmas it is all forgotten. If parents actually could earn enough money to purchase gifts and food for their children we would all be a lot better off. Maybe what we should to is demonstrate outside of the homes of the lieberal mlas on Christmas day and let them see what is actually going on in the real world.