By Trish Garner and Viveca Ellis
On Sept. 1, the British Columbia government launched a new program, the Single Parent Employment Initiative, which will provide single parents on income assistance with up to 12 months of tuition free education (up to $7,500), child care during that time, and transit costs for travel to and from school.
Congratulations to the provincial government for recognizing the value of a comprehensive approach incorporating education, income, childcare and transportation, and providing what amounts to a solid kick-start to a poverty-reduction plan for single parents on income assistance.
(Add in raising the welfare rates and affordable housing, and we’d be there.)
Other beneficial features 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 actual 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 this initiative is, in fact, a very modest restoration.
There are problems with the Single Parent Employment Initiative, most notably the education support is tied to a specific set of training options and limited to a single year. However, it provides a pathway off social assistance with an investment in education and training, and the wrap-around supports to access 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.
Now, let’s extend this poverty-reduction plan to support the rest of the 469,000 people living in poverty in B.C. and many more living one paycheque away. One in 10 British Columbians live in poverty using the most conservative measure, and B.C. has had one of the highest poverty rates for the past 13 years. Despite this shocking record, we are now the very last province without a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.
Critics may say that we can’t afford to extend this program, but we are actually paying 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 BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, a broad-based network of over 400 B.C. organizations calling for a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for B.C.
Viveca Ellis is an anti-poverty feminist activist and co-founder of the Single Mothers’ Alliance BC.