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BC's shocking child poverty rate

British Columbia has the second highest child poverty rate in Canada, says a report released today by First Call, a child and youth advocacy coalition of more than 90 provincial organizations and 25 communities.

First Call says the latest Statistics Canada numbers peg B.C.'s child-poverty rate at 14.3 per cent, with the Canadian average at 13.7 per cent.

The First Call numbers reflect before-tax incomes and apply to 2010. The report states that Manitoba has the highest child poverty rate in Canada.

Prior to this year, B.C. posted the highest child poverty rates in Canada for eight years in a row.

The most recent rankings do not include B.C.'s moves to increase the minimum wage to $10.25 per hour, offer earnings exemptions to welfare recipients and increase some disability payments.

First Call has scheduled a news conference in Vancouver today to release the full report.

Dr. John Millar, spokesman for the Public Health Association of B.C. and a First Call member, said British Columbia's lack of a co-ordinated and dedicated strategy to reduce child poverty is a "disgrace."

British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the two provinces in Canada without designated child-poverty reduction strategies.

"The problem is that for over a decade now, B.C. has been behind the rest of Canada," he said. "We've had the highest both child, family and adult poverty rates in the country and despite some good efforts on the part of the government, most recently raising the minimum wage ... we still are right at the bottom of the heap."

Millar said B.C. lacks a concerted, organized and responsible child-poverty fighting strategy that seeks to get the province on top in Canada.

Millar wants Premier Christy Clark to appoint a minister responsible for fighting child poverty.

The First Call report stated the number of poor children in 2010 was 119,000, about one of every seven B.C. children. It stated about two-thirds — or 80,000 — of these children lived in Metro Vancouver.

The report stated B.C. also had the highest income gaps between rich and poor families.

Millar said poverty robs children of their potential and increases health problems. He said in a statement growing income gaps are a "recipe for a very sick society."

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said she has not seen First Call's report, but defended B.C.'s recent efforts to reduce child poverty.

"No government, no individual, myself included, ever wants to see children or families living in poverty and what we can do to address poverty with families takes concerted effort,'" she said.

"It takes work and it certainly needs to be targeted and needs focus on the individual needs of the family and different communities."

Cadieux said B.C.'s jobs plan to create jobs in the mining and natural gas sectors is a key weapon in the government's plan to fight child poverty.

"We know that a good job is the best way out of poverty for a family," she said.

Cadieux said the government is encouraged that B.C.'s child-poverty rate is dropping. She said since 2003, B.C.'s rate has declined by 45 per cent, and the current Statistics Canada numbers, when calculated to include after-tax income, put the province's child poverty rate at 10.5 per cent.

Last month, First Call appeared before the province's all-party legislature committee on finance and government.

First Call's presentation to the six Liberals and four New Democrats on the committee said Manitoba's child poverty rate was 17.6 per cent, while B.C. and Quebec tied at 14.3 per cent.

Ontario's child poverty rate was 14.2 per cent, while New Brunswick posted the lowest child-poverty rate in Canada at 6.9 per cent.

The Canadian Press
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