The provincial coordinator of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition isn’t optimistic that the improvement in the child-poverty rate in the province in 2007 will hold up, because of the recession.
“We expect the numbers to go up by the end of 2008,” Adrienne Montani told the Straight after her group took a look at the income figures for released by Statistics Canada on June 3.
According to First Call’s analysis, B.C.’s child-poverty rate fell to 13 percent in 2007 from 16.5 percent in 2006. Despite the decline, the province continued to have the worst child-poverty record across Canada for the sixth consecutive year. The 2007 rate is also higher than the national child-poverty rate of 9.5 percent.
In a phone interview, Montani noted that the economy was still doing well in 2007 but started to soften up in 2008.
“These last six years have been good economic times for this province, so a significant number of children and families were being left out of that prosperity,” Montani said. “It’s just not acceptable.”
There were 108,000 poor B.C. children in 2007 compared to 137,000 in 2006, according to a First Call news release. The release noted that the overall poverty rate in B.C. for all persons decreased from 13 percent in 2006 to 11.1 percent in 2007, “also the worst of any province” in Canada.
In its 2009 budget papers, the provincial government has acknowledged that the economy slowed down during the latter half of 2008, with B.C. experiencing job losses, lower consumer confidence, and slower business activity.
The finance ministry has estimated growth in 2008 at one percent. Things are expected to get worse this year, with the economy forecast to contract by 0.9 percent.
Child advocates like Montani have largely blamed cuts in social-program spending made by the B.C. Liberal government since it assumed power in 2001 as the main reason why child-poverty rates have worsened in the province.
In the run-up to this year’s May 12 election, First Call and other organizations urged political parties to adopt comprehensive antipoverty plans. They suggested special attention be given to those most likely to be living in poverty, like aboriginal people, people with disabilities and mental illness, those living in single-parent households, and recent immigrants and refugees.
With respect to child poverty, Montani said First Call has called for a reduction of 25 percent by 2012 and 50 percent by 2017.