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BC leads on child poverty, minister says province improving

For the sixth year in a row British Columbia has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada, but children and family development minister Mary Polak said she's pleased the situation is improving.

“We're encouraged that even this report shows that by all measures British Columbia has the lowest child poverty rate that we've seen in almost 20 years,” she said. “I wouldn't want to be the best in Canada and yet see the rates of child poverty in British Columbia increasing.”

There was a 25,000 drop in the number of children living in poverty between 2006 and 2007 in B.C., she said. “I would argue to you that the place we hold in relation to the other provinces isn't necessarily as relevant as where we are with respect to our numbers in British Columbia.”

B.C. had the highest child poverty rate of any province in 2007 using any of three common measures, said First Call B.C.'s 2009 Child Poverty Report Card released today. The rate was 18.8 percent using the low income cutoff before tax.

Until 2000 the rate in B.C. and Canada moved up and down together depending on the strength of the economy, the report said. “The big change took place in the current decade, when the national rate continued to decline as the economy continued growing, and the BC rate shot up dramatically. In the absence of corrective action through government policy, rates are likely to go up again in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the current recession.”

Improving the B.C.'s performance requires a broad approach, Polak said. “We have to pay attention to education and literacy,” she said. “We have to pay attention to affordable housing. We have to pay attention to training and employment opportunities. There's a whole basket of services that we need to bring together across government.”

The government should be ashamed to have the highest rate of child poverty in the country for the sixth year in a row, said New Democratic Party leader Carole James. “This government is doing nothing. In fact they're making the situation continue to be bad for children and families.”

To fight child poverty the government needs to support families by raising the minimum wage, investing in childcare and providing more affordable housing. “Those three things alone could bring down the child poverty rate if the government wanted to act and they've refused.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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