Surrey hopes to benefit from poverty reduction plan

The province's first ever poverty reduction plan announced


Reported by Nathan Durec

The city that is home to almost a quarter of all poor children in B.C. may be getting a big helping hand, as a result of the province’s first targeted poverty-reduction strategy.

The strategy, called TogetherBC, aims to reduce child poverty in the province by 50 per cent over the next five years and overall poverty by 25 per cent for the same time period.

“I’m actually very excited about the strategy,” says Tabitha Naismith, a Surrey advocate who was on the province’s advisory committee on poverty reduction. “It was multi-ministry. So, that’s great to see how multi-ministries—like you look at childcare and transportation and housing—so many different ministry approaches.”

Naismith, chairwoman of the Newton’s Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now chapter and secretary for the organization’s national board, was one of 13 people handpicked to be a part of the committee put together by Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction. The poverty-reduction strategy is the culmination of 18 months of work by this committee.

TogetherBC was unveiled in Surrey by Simpson last month. He said the strategy “reflects our government’s commitment to reducing poverty and making life more affordable for British Columbians.”

High numbers of poverty in Surrey

Surrey is home to some of the worst poverty numbers in the province.

Approximately 557,000 B.C. residents live in poverty, 14 per cent of whom live in Surrey. The 2016 Canadian census showed that 99,000 children are living in poverty in B.C. It also showed Surrey’s child-poverty count at approximately 22,000. As the city grows by over 800 people each month, this number is likely to have increased since the census.

In his announcement, Simpson said he recognized the hardship that Surrey is facing, especially given how fast the city is growing.

“Surrey is an important, growing community. It’s a community where we’ve seen a number of issues that come with growth, and with people who are struggling with poverty and with other issues,” Simpson said.

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, agreed that the city faces a strain when it comes to poverty, a situation she characterized as “unacceptable.”

B.C.’s poverty reduction strategy

While exact figures are not available because the strategy is not yet fully implemented, some parts have been introduced through the 2019 provincial budget. These include the already-announced $1 billion over three years for various childcare initiatives, such as the 53 pilot sites for $10-a-day childcare and other subsidies.

In addition, $380 million was announced for the B.C. child opportunity benefit program, which will give families up to $1,600 a year. But this program will not begin until 2020.

But Huberman did say that future announcements are to come that will provide more information on the areas of poverty the strategy will tackle.

“There are going to be support for families, children and youth all combined,” she said. “It’s going to be more announcements of specific pieces related to housing and families and training.”

Moving forward

Huberman acknowledged that poverty reduction will not be easy.

“When it comes to poverty reduction, we need to work together,” Huberman said. “We can’t do it alone. The province can’t do it alone. We all need to work together.”

As well, Naismith said that the announcement only marks the beginning and that much work must still be done.

“I’m going to hold the government accountable and reach these targets.”

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