Children in low and middle-income families will get an income boost this month, Canada's Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould announced in Vancouver on Thursday.
The maximum Canada Child Benefit for children under six will rise by $96 per month to $6,496 as of July 20, in line with inflation. For children older than six, the benefit will go up $81 per month to $5,481.
About 153,000 children in B.C. — more than 18 per cent — live in poverty. It's even worse for Indigenous children. @Puglaas said government will work hard to inform families about benefits #bcpoli #cdnpoli #CanadaChildBenefit
"We all know how expensive it is to raise healthy children," Wilson-Raybould said. "They are certainly not cheap."
The $23.3-billion CCB was created two years ago by the Trudeau Liberal government to replace a number of other child tax benefits. It has raised more than half a million people, including nearly 300,000 children, out of poverty, Wilson-Raybould said. About 3.7 million families receive the benefit, under which a single parent earning $35,000 who has two children would receive nearly $600 per month.
The CCB is a positive step in lifting families out of poverty, but much more needs to be done. In B.C., the most recent statistics in the First Call poverty report card show that about 153,000 children — more than 18 per cent — live in poverty. It's even worse for Indigenous children, of whom 31 per cent live in poverty, and children with single moms, of whom 47 per cent live in poverty. The First Call statistics were released in November 2017 and rely on 2015 data, which doesn't reflect the CCB — a significant change that will undoubtedly improve those numbers, but won't erase them.
The CCB is non-taxable and is phased out for higher income families. The average family has received $4,600 more over the last two years per family compared to when the Liberals were elected, Wilson-Raybould said. She called the old system "unrealistic" and said in her riding of Vancouver-Granville more than $2.7 million a year is paid to local families with children.
Families decide for themselves what to spend the money on, and those things could range from organized sports to tutoring to healthy food, Wilson-Raybould said.
"It has made a huge difference to families right across the country," she said.
One in five on-reserve Indigenous families not qualifying for benefit
But one group who isn’t seeing the full benefit of the money is Indigenous families – the government now estimates that one in five Indigenous families on reserve who should qualify are not receiving the benefit. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, told the Canadian Press last week that these families need and deserve the benefit more than the average family.
"We've got to improve on delivery of the (child benefit) and I would say this is the number one priority in the months to come," Duclos told the Canadian Press.
When asked what is being done to ensure Indigenous families get the CCB, Wilson-Raybould said that three-quarters of Indigenous children do receive the benefit, but that many don't understand that they have to file a tax return — even if their income is nil — in order to receive the benefit. She said the government is working to ensure Indigenous people know about the benefit and have help filing their tax returns.
What will it mean for B.C.?
Meanwhile, B.C. is the only province in the country without a poverty reduction plan, although the NDP government has promised to bring one in. Last week, the province released a report about poverty in the province, based on public consultation to develop the plan. The lack of affordable housing was the number one concerned identified, but people also told of fear of losing their children due to poverty, the inability to buy necessities like food or medication and the disadvantages faced by single mothers.
The B.C. government already made some steps to alleviate poverty, like increasing welfare rates, raising minimum wage and eliminating tuition on adult basic education courses. But British Columbians will have to wait a while longer for the full plan. Last month, the federal government and B.C. agreed to put nearly $1 billion over 10 years into affordable housing in the province. While those measures, and increasing the CCB, will definitely help, alleviating poverty will take a detailed plan with objectives and accountability.
The CCB is one way of providing a universal basic income to Canadians, in this case specifically Canadians with children. Indexing it to inflation should be a given, and the Liberals' move is both fair and encouraging. When we are able to see that move as simply a single step in a multi-faceted, comprehensive poverty reduction plan that holds both the province and the federal government accountable, that will be true social change.
Tracy Sherlock writes about B.C. politics for National Observer. Send your tips and ideas to [email protected]. And never miss a story: use the promo code SHERLOCK today when you buy an annual subscription, and get a 20% discount.