B.C. has worst child-poverty rate in Canada

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      How do you like the idea of receiving regular income from the government, with no questions asked and no conditions attached?

      The concept of a guaranteed income has been around for a long time, and child and youth advocate Adrienne Montani says it should be part of discussions on policies aimed at addressing poverty.

      Montani made the suggestion on the sidelines of a Vancouver media event held on November 24, which showcased Statistics Canada figures indicating that for the seventh year in a row in 2008, British Columbia had the worst child-poverty rate in Canada, according to a measure of poverty that uses after-tax income.

      “I like the idea of concentrating the kind of support that families would get into one payment,” Montani told the Georgia Straight. “The reason I like it is because right now, families don’t even know what they’re entitled to. And they [benefits] all start to fall away. Sometimes when you hit like $35,000 a year [in income], you lose your child-care subsidy, maybe. Your child tax benefit starts to go and you actually find yourself cash poor, and poorer than you would be if maybe you were not working.”

      The adoption of a guaranteed income policy wasn’t included in the wide range of recommendations made by First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition in its latest report on child poverty. These recommendations include raising the minimum wage to $11 per hour and the federal government’s Canada Child Tax Benefit to $5,400 per child.

      “Our coalition, First Call, hasn’t discussed it as a concept,” said Montani, a former Vancouver school trustee who is the provincial coordinator of the group.

      However, Montani noted that she personally feels a guaranteed income policy would prevent families from losing benefits due to changes in their earnings. “If it was concentrated in one benefit, then you could have the coherence,” she said. “I like it that way.”

      In November 2009, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a paper examining the concept.

      James Mulvale, associate dean of the faculty of social work at the University of Regina, coauthored the paper with UBC law professor Margot Young. While the two have different views on the idea, they noted in Possibilities and Prospects: The Debate Over a Guaranteed Income that they both “agree that the question of ensuring universal, unconditional, and adequate economic security for all people in Canada is critical”. The paper also noted that proponents of the idea believe that such an approach is a “fix to poverty”.

      In a phone interview from Regina, Mulvale explained that the concept of having an “unconditional, universal, adequate level of economic support for everybody” has many advantages “if it’s designed properly”.

      According to Mulvale, the country’s separate systems of income support and welfare do not provide seamless support for people in need, and are often delivered on a piecemeal basis.

      “We’re not doing a good job now, and we need to think about some other different approaches,” Mulvale told the Straight.

      Tracy Johnson, a single parent, knows only too well the difficulty of getting by on limited means. Speaking during the presentation by First Call of its child-poverty report, Johnson explained that she is on welfare, and that she doesn’t have enough for her five children.

      It isn’t just parents on welfare who are having a tough time, according to First Call’s report. The document also noted that the “vast majority” of B.C.’s 121,000 poor children live in families with some income from paid work. “In 2008, one-third of them—40,600 children—lived in families with at least one adult working full-time, full-year,” the coalition’s report stated.

      According to another paper coauthored by Mulvale, there are two basic guaranteed income models. One is the negative income-tax model, in which the government supplements incomes so people can rise above the poverty line. The second is the so-called “universal demogrant” model, in which all citizens receive a lump sum from the government.

      The document, titled Income Security for All Canadians: Understanding Guaranteed Income, noted that the country has a long history of debates about this social model. It recounted how, during the 1930s, then Alberta premier William Aberhart sought to implement a system of regular cash payments from the provincial government to residents. However, this proved difficult to implement because of the economic depression at the time, as well as the federal government’s resistance to such a program.

      Mulvale pointed out that at present, the country already has in place components of a guaranteed income system. He cited as examples the old-age pension, child tax benefits for low-income families, the rebate on the goods and services tax, and employment insurance.

      “In terms of a strategy to move us towards something like a guaranteed income system”¦we need to take that step-by-step, incremental approach,” Mulvale said. “Others had argued that we could bring in one program that could replace all the other ones. I don’t think that’s politically feasible, and I also think it’s risky. Coming up with even a politically doable, a one-program-fits-all, and replaces everything else, I think that you might end up with people being worse off if they’re losing supports like health insurance and social housing and help for early childhood education.”

      Comments

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      12 Comments

      L. LeBlanc

      Nov 25, 2010 at 4:40am

      Sorry. This is obviously a statement from people who have never lived or worked on the streets in poverty stricken areas. That money would, by and large, go to landlords hiking rents...self medication by parents who are also addicts...bullies in the family taking funds from the person getting the money...and on and on. Handing out money is not...and never will be...the answer to feeding and clothing the children living in poverty. One step, in the right direction, would be to get rid of upper management in social service ministries in the provincial government , which is top heavy with huge salaries and bonus payments, and whose efforts are self serving and an ongoing, tragic joke. That money could then be put into budgets restoring services that have been axed by this government. Lunch programs at schools...addiction services...street workers...reception centers...child care workers going into homes...REAL , practical, common sense initiatives.

      Johanna Mellvaney

      Nov 25, 2010 at 11:25am

      A Guaranteed Income system does not exclude putting money into social services. In fact, it is a model that focuses on economic redistribution not only for each individual, but also for enhancing social services. In any case, the point is that every person deserves enough money for their basic needs to be taken care of, regardless of what they choose to do with that money. Our current welfare system does not provide for that, nor are our social service programs adequate. Guaranteed Income provides models that address both of these issues.

      Johanna Mellvaney

      Nov 25, 2010 at 11:48am

      In response to the previous comment, guaranteed Income is a system that calls for a kind of economic redistribution in which not only does each individual get enough money to live off of, but more money would go into social programs as well. The point is that everyone deserves enough money to have their basic needs taken care of. What they do with that money is up to them to decide. Not only does our current welfare system not provide enough money for each person's basic needs to be provided for, but it our social service programs are inadequate as well. Guaranteed Income models can account for both of these issues.

      e.a.f.

      Nov 25, 2010 at 2:50pm

      a guaranteed income would have to be a federal program if it were to work.
      Housing would need to be "fixed" immediately or landlords might well take the extra money with no improvement in the lives of children. This would most likely require either social housing or rent controls or a combo.
      We would be much better off going back to the Unemployment Insurance act which was introduced in 1971 by Trudeau. It provided unemployment benefits at 2/3 of person's working salary and people qualified for benefits with 8 weeks of work.
      When various governments started "chipping/axing" benefits from U.I./E.I. people collected less for shorter time periods. This was simply a method of downloading to the provinces and some like B.C. certainly did nothing to pick up the slack.
      Money alone will not solve the problem. There needs to be social services in place with more front line workers to assist families or else we may well see more cases such as the child left with her dead mother.
      Of course all of this would require higher taxes, especially business taxes, and that is not going to happen anytime.
      soon.
      At one time businesses carried the tax load in the country, now its the middle and working class. Now we have more families in poverty, familes which require both parents to work to make ends meet and there still isn't more employment, in fact as business taxes in Canada were reduced more companies went off shore.

      14 8Rating: +6

      Birdy

      Nov 25, 2010 at 5:47pm

      Poverty builds character.
      (BC Liberals new campaign slogan)

      J.S.N.

      Nov 25, 2010 at 11:24pm

      Poverty builds resentment, frustration and anger.

      RonS

      Nov 26, 2010 at 6:45am

      How much would $6,000 per year help? Just ask Ida Chong. We could take all the lunch and other benefits from our MLA's and direct them towards the poor and underprivledged. Maybe a portion of the exhorbitant electrical profits from Run of River projects could be directed towards them as well.

      This government certainly looks after it's wealthy friends. I say lets spread the wealth around a little. I'm sure Gordo's friends wouldn't mind.

      Vince T

      Nov 26, 2010 at 11:54am

      Once again politicians don't care about poor children because they dont vote!

      Concerned human

      Nov 26, 2010 at 3:13pm

      A guaranteed income for seniors and the disabled (as long as they have lived in Canada for 10 years) IS a good idea.
      For children, I would go for food stamps and housing subsidies rather than cash as children seldom make the major buying decisions.
      Under no circumstances should able-bodied adults get 20K per year to sit on their behind.

      Mike M

      Dec 2, 2010 at 7:25pm

      Unbelievable. Did I actually read this? I hope the Straight prints my letter but I got it in late. I'm having trouble distinguishing "guaranteed income" from "welfare". It seems to me that guaranteed income is a more expanded and comprehensive version of welfare. If implemented, this would:

      - Cause considerable currency devaluation which hurts the poor more than the rich
      - Increase the birth rate dramatically - (could be good or bad thing depending on your perspective - I say it is bad)
      - Kill CPP deader than it already is
      - Precipitate an increase in the number of people who "need" guaranteed income or at least can make themselves eligible

      ...and most importantly...

      - Indebt future Canadians to the point of utter lunacy

      Some may say that guaranteed income is another term for various social programs - this is patently false. Last time I checked, it means guaranteeing the income of all Canadians, including those who could otherwise stand on their own two feet and through taxation help those who actually cannot live without the support of their fellow Canadians.

      13 7Rating: +6