On Sept. 1, the province launched a new program that will provide single parents on income assistance with up to 12 months of tuition (up to $7500), child care while the parents are at school, and transit costs for travel to and from school. (Also featured in The Vancouver Sun)
Congratulations to the B.C. government for recognizing the value of a comprehensive approach incorporating education, income, child care and transportation, and providing what amounts to a solid kickstart to a poverty reduction plan for single parents on income assistance.
Other benefits of the program include the exemption of non-governmental bursaries and grants during the training period. Previously, these were clawed back from welfare cheques, thereby undermining any support these grants may have provided. Single parents will also continue to receive health supplement coverage (including dental, optical and premium-free MSP and Pharmacare) and child care support for one year after leaving welfare for employment. This extends to all families with children, helping to ease the transition into employment during this critical time, and has long been called for by anti-poverty advocates.
It is important to remember that before 2002, a year of harsh welfare policy changes, everyone on welfare could access student loans so the new program is a very modest restoration.
There are problems with the single parent employment initiative, most notably that the education support is tied to a specific set of training options and limited to a single year. However, it provides a path to getting off social assistance with an investment in education and training, and the supports needed to use it. This makes it an approach that recognizes the necessity of a comprehensive solution, and this is exactly what is necessary to tackle poverty in B.C.
So now let’s extend this poverty reduction plan to support the rest of the 469,000 people living in poverty in B.C. One in 10 British Columbians live in poverty under the most conservative measure, and B.C. has had one of the highest poverty rates in Canada for the last 13 years. B.C. is the only province without a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.
Critics may say that we can’t afford to extend this program, but we pay far more to keep people in poverty. A comprehensive poverty reduction plan is a long-term investment that saves both lives and money.
If the government recognizes the value of a poverty reduction plan for single parents on income assistance, why not a poverty reduction plan for B. C.?
Trish Garner is the community organizer of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition. Viveca Ellis is an anti-poverty feminist activist and co-founder of the Single Mothers’ Alliance B.C.