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BC still number one on child poverty, says report

British Columbia still leads the nation in child poverty and, according to a report released today, the problem is only getting worse.

Using data collected by Statistics Canada in 2009, the child advocacy group First Call found that the proportion of B.C. children living under the federal poverty line rose since the previous year.

"The number of poor children in BC was 137,000 -- about the same as the total populations of Kamloops, Fort St. John, Port Alberni and Powell River combined," reads the report card on child poverty, which First Call published with the support of SPARC BC and AMSSA.

Looking at income after taxes and benefits, the report card found that between 2008 and 2009, child poverty within the province climbed from 10.4 per cent to 12 percent. That figure puts British Columbia at the top of the national child poverty charts for the eighth year running.

The national average after-tax child poverty rate is 9.5 per cent.

Excluding the effects of taxes, rebates, and government assistance, the B.C. 16.4 per cent of children were found to be living in poverty, compared to 14.5 per cent the year before.

The measure of poverty used by the report is based on Statistics Canada's low-income cut off (LICO). According to the 2009 federal definition, a family of four living in a large city was considered to be poor if they made less than $34,829 a year. For rural families of the same size, poverty was defined as annual income under $22,783.

The First Call report also notes a change in the make-up of poor families. While the poverty rate for the children of single mothers declined to a record low of 24.2 per cent, there was a marked rise in the number of poor children living in two-parent homes -- from 12.2 per cent in 2008 to 15 per cent in 2009.

Groups found much more likely to live below the poverty line include the children of recent immigrants, aboriginal children, and children with disabilities. For example, over 4 out 10 children of recent immigrants live beneath the poverty line.

The report concludes by making a series of policy recommendations which include calling for the appointment of a B.C. cabinet minister who would oversee a poverty reduction plan to cut provincial poverty in half by 2020.

Responding to the report today, Children and Family Development minister Mary McNeil is reported to have said that she hopes to foster a series of poverty reduction plans across the province, municipality by municipality, as opposed to producing an overarching provincial strategy.

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee

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