557,000 British Columbians living in poverty can’t wait.
In November, the government passed poverty reduction legislation promising a poverty reduction plan in the spring. We need an accountable, bold and comprehensive poverty reduction plan to save lives and promote equality.
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Poverty Reduction legislation includes targets and timelines but not for people far below the poverty line
(British Columbia) The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) congratulates the government for introducing poverty reduction legislation for BC. After years of waiting, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act (Bill 39) could, if passed, ensure the foundation for the first ever poverty reduction plan for BC.
“The legislation is the foundation of a poverty reduction strategy. While this Act hits many accountability measures, there are gaps. We hope these gaps can be filled through a bold and comprehensive poverty reduction plan, and we encourage the general public to continue to advocate to the government as they develop the plan to be launched next year,” says Trish Garner, Community Organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.
The Act includes targets to decrease the overall poverty rate by 25% and the child poverty rate by 50% in 5 years using the Market Basket Measure, now “Canada’s official poverty line.” If these targets are achieved, this would lift almost 140,000 British Columbians out of poverty, including 49,500 children. As well as reducing poverty, the plan must also include initiatives to prevent poverty in BC.
However, there are no targets and timelines for tackling the depth of poverty or ensuring those most marginalized are included in the reduction targets.
“It is good to see that the Act references consideration of the breadth and depth of poverty and includes a list of many of the groups most impacted by poverty,” says Garner. “But not tying these considerations to targets could let the government off the hook. For example, the Act does not ensure action on increasing income and disability assistance rates, leaving people struggling far below the poverty line.”
The Act would legislate government’s commitment to reconciliation, the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“While many groups are listed as targeted demographics, reference to the unique conditions of women’s poverty in BC, particularly in relation to single mothers and our child poverty rates, is a glaring omission,” highlights Viveca Ellis of the Community Action Network (and co-founder of the Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC). “Given the appointment of Mitzi Dean as Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, I would have expected a legislated focus on gender inequality.”
Strong accountability measures include mandatory annual reports on actions, effects and progress made towards the targets to be tabled before the Legislative Assembly and made available to the public. An Advisory committee will also be established, including people living in poverty.
“The commitments to reducing barriers to participation for people in poverty in the advisory committee and future consultations are critical,” says Garner. “This is a significant foundation of a human rights framework. Unfortunately, there are no legislated commitments to any other human rights covenants apart from UNDRIP.”
The Act also does not include a “poverty/equity lens” (called an “impact clause” in Quebec’s legislation), which would embed a whole-of-government approach through ensuring that no Ministry could make decisions that hurt people in poverty; although it does include consideration of the “accessibility and coordination” of initiatives and supports provided by government, and federal, municipal, and indigenous governments.
The over-arching vision and first steps of a poverty reduction plan matter. This policy brief recommends the first steps that the government can take in order to implement an accountable, bold and comprehensive plan.