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Food bank report fails B.C. on several poverty tests, but commends efforts

Food Banks Canada tracking poverty gives B.C. an overall D-plus
Food insecurity among British Columbians has been growing according to a new report that gives B.C. a D-plus tracking poverty. B.C.received a failing grade in several areas, but the report also handed out a B for efforts by government to deal with poverty. (Submitted photo)

An organization tracking poverty has given B.C. failing grades in several areas, but also a B when it comes to putting forward positive policies.

Food Banks Canada’s Poverty Report Card mixes surveys, statistics and policy analysis to mark provinces on their poverty reduction progress each year. This year, the group handed B.C. an overall grade of D-plus, the same rating it received in 2023.

But B.C.’s grade worsened in several sub-areas, while also improving in others.

The report notes that the provincial poverty rate of 11.6 per cent is “substantially higher” than the national average of 9.9 per cent, with several groups such as women living alone with children and seniors living alone above the national poverty rate for those groups. Those figures earned B.C. a failing grade, the same as last year.

B.C. also received a failing grade from government support recipients. Six out of 10 social assistance rates are not high enough to keep up with the cost of living and 45 per cent of all British Columbians said they felt worse off financially this year than last year. That figure actually gives B.C. a D, up from a D-minus last year.

One central cause of poverty in B.C. is the cost of housing. Not only does it have most expensive housing market in Canada, but the average cost of housing is also rising faster in B.C. (6.4 per cent) than across the country (six per cent). Rents also increased at a faster rate (8.6 per cent) than elsewhere in Canada (7.7 per cent). According to the report, almost 47 of respondents paid more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, which earned B.C. a failing grade, the same as last year.

“Despite being one of Canada’s wealthiest provinces, (B.C.) struggles with significant income inequality and housing affordability issues, particularly in urban centres like Vancouver,” the report reads.

One source of this income equality is the availability of child care.

“Access to affordable, high-quality childcare is an important barrier that prevents many families from being able to participate in the labour market,” the report reads. While B.C. families have been paying less since the province pioneered $10-a-day childcare, other provinces have seen larger drops. Accordingly, more British Columbians are cutting back their working hours to care for their children.

RELATED: Child poverty spikes dramatically in B.C. single-mom families: StatsCan

With various costs soaring high, almost 22 per cent of surveyed British Columbians are experiencing various levels of food insecurity. That figure earned B.C. a failing grade, down from a B-minus. According to Food Banks Canada, B.C.’s 127 food banks received just under 196,000 visits in 2023, an increase of 20 per cent from 2022. Compared to 2019, visits rose by 57.1 per cent.

Still, the report praises government efforts on address some poverty issues, especially in the area of housing.

“(B.C.) has developed an ambitious and aggressive housing plan that is widely regarded as among the best in Canada,” the report reads. “Consistent with a key recommendation we made last year, the provincial government has put forward a number of incentives to assist with the development of more purpose-built market rental housing, including access to low cost-loans using government-backed borrowing.”

This program — known as B.C. Builds — will help many British Columbians who are already struggling in the private market, it adds.

“In addition, B.C. has made sweeping changes to zoning laws to legalize greater density and enable housing developers to construct more housing without going through lengthy approval processes.”

The report includes several policy recommendations, including measures to raise assistance rates and build even more housing, while also criticizing parts of government’s pre-election budget.

“Despite the current affordability crisis, the 2024 provincial budget made no new commitments to target poverty reduction,” the report reads. “However, it is spending $1 billion on a one-time tax credit that will help families save an average of $100 on their electricity bills. This is a very large expenditure, spread very thinly, that will mostly help middle- and upper-income households heading into the election period.”

Critics have also labeled the government’s recent ICBC rebate as a pre-election goodie.

“Notably, though, the provincial budget did also announce a temporary, one-year bonus for the (B.C.) Family Benefit, which will provide more than $400 in additional support,” the report reads. “This will bring the combined maximum benefit to nearly $2,200 for the first child.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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