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BC ties Manitoba for highest child poverty

British Columbia has once again taken the title of province with the highest number of poor families with children. The latest numbers released today by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition show poverty for families with children rose from 10.5 per cent in 2010 to 11.3 per cent -- or 93,000 children -- in 2011.

Numbers from Statistics Canada show B.C. has tied with Manitoba for the child poverty highest rate in the country. This is the ninth year in the last decade that B.C. has achieved first place in poorest families.

The worst hit families were female-led single parent families, where poverty rates jumped from 16.4 per cent in 2010 to 24.6 per cent -- or 27,000 kids -- in 2011. Poverty in two parent families also increased from 7.7 per cent to 9.2 per cent -- or 61,000 children -- in 2011.

First Call places the blame for the rising poverty levels on a perfect storm of a high cost of living combined with inadequate wages in the province. Regardless of B.C.'s economic performance over the years, the advocacy organization says government has failed to adequately address the government's child poverty problem.

"The 2013 provincial budget contains no policy measures or significant investments that will help families struggling with inadequate incomes now," said Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator of First Call, in a news release issued this morning.

"The number one priority in the premier's directives to even the child-oriented ministries is to contain costs, rather than meet needs."

But the ministry of children and family development says child poverty is at one of its lowest rates in more than three decades.

"The child poverty rate has declined by 41 per cent since 2003," Minister Stephanie Cadieux told The Tyee, adding she was "not entirely clear" why the province's numbers remain the highest in the country.

"But the best way to get children out of poverty is to make sure their parents have good jobs. That's why we’re focused on our Jobs Plan and building opportunities for adults to have jobs in the province, and at the same time we've got a number of targeted investments that we're making to try and help put money back in the pockets of families who need it most."

Some of these investments include the BC Early Childhood Tax Benefit, scheduled to come into effect in 2015. But First Call's release says the Benefit, which will provide families up to $660 per year for each child under the age of six, "won't come close to lifting most poor children out of poverty, when depth of poverty figures for lone-parent and two-parent families have shown them to be $10,000 or more below the poverty line."

Last year's Child Poverty Report Card found 43 per cent of children living in poverty had at least one parent with a full-time job. Stats released today also found that the median income for female-led single parent families also dropped from $32,000 in 2010 to $21,500 in 2011 -- almost $2,000 below the poverty line for a single parent family with one child.

Cadiuex says the BC Jobs Plan is focused on not only improving workers skills but creating jobs that will provide family-friendly incomes. Cadiuex, who previously served as minister of social development, says the government has also increased minimum wage three times since 2011 and continues to review the lowest legal wage regularly.

The minister says she knows these programs are making a difference because child poverty statistics have dropped significantly since 2003. But the province hasn't managed to dip below the 10 per cent mark.

The ministry of children and family development continues to work on its seven community-based local poverty plans, but First Call wants province-wide changes, including the implementation of $10-a-day childcare and increased social housing investment.

"A decade plus of excessively high child poverty rates in this province, through good and bad economic times, has undermined the life chances of generations of poor children," said Montani.

"Enough is enough. It's time for the B.C. government to invest effort and money in a bringing this number down through a comprehensive action plan. It's not rocket science -- we know what will help."

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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