Tuesday, June 25, 2024

BC sets ‘ambitious’ goal to reduce overall poverty by 60% with new legislation


The BC government says they are trying to make it more accessible to escape poverty through three new legislation changes they announced on Tuesday, March 5th. 

The aim of these changes is to reduce poverty by __ over the next 10 years. 

New targets will focus on reducing seniors’ poverty, child poverty and removing barriers for those who need to receive income or disability assistance. 

“We know people in BC are facing big challenges, so we are setting new, ambitious poverty-reduction targets, to better help people, including seniors, get through tough times,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. 

“People say they feel better—and are better off—when they have a job and community connections, so we are also reducing barriers for those who can work, while continuing to support those who cannot.”

Specifically, the 10 year goals are to reduce overall poverty by 60%, child poverty by 75% and seniors’ poverty by 50%.

The Province says this will be achieved by amending 2018’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Act (PRSA) to set their goals in stone. 

On top of this, in spring of this year, BC will release a new Poverty Reduction Strategy. 

Next, the Province says they will be making changes to the laws that govern income and disability assistance, which have not had a comprehensive overhaul since 2002. 

The BC government believes that some sections of these laws make life harder for some people who are more vulnerable than others. 

One change the Province says is of note is that these laws will include a new employment approach.  

In the new approach, people will reportedly be assessed  to determine what supports they need to work towards employment after they begin receiving assistance. 

“After my move from my hometown of Bella Coola to Vancouver, I was struggling with substance use and isolation,” said Mike Pootlass, whose life the Province says was transformed by a government-funded skills training program. 

“Thanks to help from the Lookout Ethical Employment Program, I was able to access quality counselling, skills training and employment. I found a job as a janitor at Lookout’s Jim Green supportive housing and have been working for over nine months now.” 

Pootlass added that he has been able to reckon with some intergenerational trauma because of this and feels good that he is able to better contribute to his family. 

The Province says that through the legislation changes they are planning, they will be sure to include the perspectives of BC’s many First Nations to “incorporate Indigenous experience and knowledge of poverty and well-being into ongoing poverty reduction efforts and the 2024 Poverty Reduction Strategy.”

Over 10,000 people gave feedback on the proposed changes, 70% of whom had lived experience of being unhoused, according to the BC government. 

Following the consultation phase, the Province determined a major theme of what they were hearing was to have easier access to the available supports. 

Other parties opinions on the poverty reduction proposal

Immediately following the release of these new changes the BC government says will come into effect, Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the BC Green Party said it was her position that, “Simply put, poverty reduction is not good enough.”

“We need a poverty elimination strategy, otherwise, we can’t take this government seriously,” said Furstenau.

“At a time when people on disability and income assistance are falling far below the poverty line, this bill adds even greater bureaucratic demand with no recognition of the way in which these assistance programs are trapping people in poverty.”

The BC Greens say the Province needs to think outside the box and find a way to ensure that the new legislation will not ostracize those who need access to assistance and instead, give them a path away from poverty. 

“The cost of living, just the cost to be alive, is really having dramatic impacts on people, particularly on Indigenous people,” said Adam Olsen, BC Green Party MLA for Saanich North and the Islands. 

“We’re not talking nearly enough about quality of life. The provincial government is not setting targets to create a greater quality of life for people, they’re simply setting these targets to manage the truly unaffordable cost of living.” 

Overall, the BC Green Party wished for a more equitable decision that includes poverty elimination rather than reduction.

They say they will continue to keep an eye on these legislation changes as they progress and will advocate for an immediate increase to disability and income assistance rates.

As of this publication, neither Kevin Falcon of the BC United Party nor John Rustad of the Conservative Party of British Columbia have commented on this proposed legislation change.

Curtis Blandy

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