04/19/2013 09:40 EDT | Updated 06/19/2013 05:12 EDT

BC NDP Welfare, Poverty Reduction Plan Called 'Pathetic'


VANCOUVER - New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix's claim that British Columbia has the worst income inequality and the second worst record on child poverty in Canada echoes Statistics Canada data, but some policy experts and advocacy groups say Dix's plan to turn things around may fall flat.

"My goal is to be better," Dix said Friday when he announced a raft of new funding aimed at dealing with the issue.

"When you address and focus resources on children living in poverty and lift them out, which this plan does demonstrably, that's going to have a positive effect," he said.

The NDP's plan involves increasing income assistance by $20 per month, doubling the earnings exemption to $400 per month and providing up to $70 per month for every child of a family earning up to $66,000 per year.

Welfare recipients would immediately be eligible for the increased earnings exemption, which would not be clawed back from regular welfare payments.

Statistics Canada data backs up Dix's claims that B.C. ranks amongst the worst in Canada on income equality and welfare.

The top 20 per cent of British Columbian's earn 11 times more than what the bottom 20 per cent earn -- the worst ratio in the country.

Furthermore, British Columbians in the bottom income bracket earn less today than they did 25 years ago, while wages for the province's top income earners have steadily climbed since the mid 1970s.

"There is no doubt that income inequality has grown over the last several decades," said Paul Kershaw, a policy professor at the University of British Columbia.

Kershaw said part of the problem is a failure to address the poverty issues of young people.

"B.C. is the place with one of the steepest declines in wages for young people," he said.

B.C. is the only province where "household incomes for young people aged 25 to 34 are down today compared to 1976," Kershaw said.

"It's down even though there has been a dramatic increase in the proportion of dual-earner couples."

Kershaw said any plan that "tinkers around the edges of our existing approach" won't improve the situation in B.C.

Adrienne Montani, with the First Call BC Child and Youth Advocacy group, called Dix's proposal to increase welfare rates by $20 "pathetic."

Montani said she had hoped for a commitment of $300 or $400 dollars more per month.

Veteran anti-poverty activists echoed Montani's concerns.

"A lot of people in B.C. want an effective poverty reduction strategy," said Jean Swanson of Raise the Rates.

"The foundation of that strategy is a significant increase in welfare to the poorest people in the province. This $20 announcement is an insult. Voters who want poverty reduction are left wondering who to vote for."

In a column published in the Vancouver Sun on Thursday, Liberal Leader Christy Clark said she believes "the best way to help families is jobs."

"My focus has been on growing the size of the economy, rather than the size of government. It's the only sustainable way to ensure B.C.'s long-term prosperity," Clark wrote.

"Growing the economy means more investment, more businesses starting up, expanding, or relocating here and ultimately, creating more jobs that support families."

But, said Kershaw, Clark's plan may not work either.

"The approach is jobs to lift people out of poverty," Kershaw said, "but jobs aren't quite what they used to be especially for young people."

"The typical 25 to 34-year-old is making four bucks less an hour in B.C. than a generation ago even though (they) are twice as likely to have post secondary education."

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