B.C. Social Development Minister Shane Simpson has released the NDP government’s long-awaited poverty plan, a combination of previously announced increases to income assistance, child care, minimum wage and housing.
The main elements of the plan, branded as “TogetherBC,” include the provincial “child opportunity benefit,” to be extended until children are aged 18 in concert with the federal child benefit program.
Simpson also emphasized the NDP government’s commitment to fund on-reserve housing for Indigenous communities, historically the federal government’s responsibility, and committing nearly $3 billion in gambling revenues for Indigenous communities over 25 years.
Simpson said “systemic racism” is the main reason why Indigenous people are twice as likely to live in poverty as B.C. residents as a whole.
“There will be other initiatives moving forward as well, but this was about establishing that road map moving forward, and that meant capturing the things that make this work,” Simpson said. “It’s a five-year project to get up to the objectives that we have in this plan.”
In the provincial budget announced in February, income assistance rates for all categories were increased $50 per month, following a $100-a-month increase soon after the NDP government took office in 2017. That brings the single employable rate to $760 a month.
The budget also includes $15 million over three years for the province’s modular housing plan for homeless people, adding 200 more units to the 2,000 modular living units set up since 2017, primarily in areas with tent camps.
The federal government officially established a “poverty line” in 2018, using the “market basket measure” of the cost of basic goods and service. That measure yields a total of 557,000 people in B.C. living in poverty, nearly 100,000 of them children, Simpson said.
The B.C. plan’s goals, announced last fall, are to reduce overall poverty by 25 per cent and child poverty by one half. Legislation passed last year requires the province to report annually on its progress, starting in 2020.