Salmon Arm is no stranger to poverty.
In 2013, the most recent year for statistics, 620 children in Salmon Arm up to 17 years of age – that’s 18 per cent – were living in poverty. Of them, 210 were children five years and younger.
Those statistics are part of the 2015 Child Poverty Report Card for BC produced by the First Call Coalition.
“Canada has repeatedly drawn criticisms from the United Nations Committee on the Right of the Child for failing to live up to our obligations to uphold and promote children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” the report states.
While the problem is a national one, spokesperson Adrienne Montani points out that from 2000 to 2013, B.C. has continually been higher than the national average in terms of poor children.
“We have gone from one in four to one in five. We call that glacial change in 13 years.”
She said a bone of contention with anti-poverty groups in B.C. is the province’s current pilot projects in seven municipalities, which are based on the faulty contention that every community is unique so the province can’t provide broad-based solutions.
“In fact one size does fit all,” she says, when inadequate welfare rates, low minimum wage and high child-care costs are contributors. Welfare rates haven’t been raised since 2007, and the minimum wage is below the poverty level. Statistics Canada lists low-income measures for various sizes of families. For example, the low-income line for a single-parent family of two children under 16 is $29,531 per year.
“Child care comes up a lot. Right now child care costs more than some people earn. So what’s the point?” says Montani.
She said the tax system, laws and regulations trap people in poverty, while huge amounts of wealth are accumulated at the top.
“Income inequality has continued to grow in B.C., with a 78.3 per cent increase in median income for the top 0.1 per cent versus a 0.3 per cent increase for the bottom 99 per cent between 1982 and 2012,” states the report.
Food and housing are chronic issues.
“A lot of low-income parents say they feed their children first,” she says, noting “food banks are a nice idea” but don’t prevent poverty.
Asked about social programs, Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo said the economy is key.
“We need a solid economic engine, to pull our social program cart.”
The Child Poverty Report Card makes 21 recommendations to the provincial and federal governments, which can be found at: firstcallbc.org. They include raising the minimum wage, the second lowest in the country; implementing a national child-care plan, lowering barriers to post-secondary education for low-income students; and increasing efforts to provide housing to low-income people.