D+ British Columbia Report Cards

Section 1: Experience of Poverty

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
People Feeling Worse off Compared to Last Year
45.0%
D
D-
People Spending More than 30% of Income on Housing
46.6%
F
F
People Having Trouble Accessing Health Care
27.3%
F
C-
Government Support Recipients Who Say Rates Are Insufficient to Keep Up with Cost of Living
60.7%
F
F
Percent of Income Spent on Fixed Costs beyond Housing
52.6%
B
B-
Overall
D-
D-

Section 2: Poverty Measures

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Poverty Rate (MBM)
11.6%
F
F
Provincial Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line (Singles)
42%
D-
Provincial Disability Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line
62%
D+
Unemployment Rate
5.5%
D
C-
Food Insecurity Rate
21.8%
F
B-
Overall
D-
D+

Section 3: Material Deprivation

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Inadequate Standard of Living
33.6%
D+
D
Severely Inadequate Standard of Living
24.6%
D
D+
Overall
D
D+

Section 4: Legislative Progress

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Legislative Progress
B
C
Overall
B
C
×

The BC government is coming off a strong year of legislative action on housing affordability and poverty reduction planning. Still, there is much to be done, especially in relieving financial stress for people today. As residents of the province will head to the polls in 2024, it will be important for poverty and food insecurity to surface as top election issues to ensure strong progress continues.

Poverty Overview

BC’s poverty rate is substantially higher than the national average (11.6 per cent compared to 9.9 per cent). 

The poverty rate among seniors in BC is 6.4 per cent overall and 14.3 per cent among seniors who live alone. Poverty among this group has declined about 15 per cent slower than in the rest of the country since 2015, which is worrying. Overall, the poverty rate for those who lived alone was 24.5 per cent in 2021, which is higher than the Canadian rate of 21.5 per cent for this group. 

Lone women with children have a poverty rate of 17.8 per cent, which is higher than the national rate (14.4 per cent). 

The poverty rate for couples with children is 5 per cent. The poverty rate among children and youth tells a diverging story. Although overall child poverty is significantly lower in BC than the national average (8.6 per cent, compared to 10.3 per cent), the poverty rate among youth aged 18–24 is 4 percentage points higher in BC (18 per cent) than nationally (14 per cent). This likely reflects the impact of transfer programs such as BC’s own top-up to the CCB, which has been a key driver in reducing child poverty across the country. Youth who are not parents, by contrast, do not have access to these benefits to aid with the high cost of living in the province, likely contributing to their high rates of poverty.

Poverty and Inequality in BC

Despite being one of Canada's wealthiest provinces, BC struggles with significant income inequality and housing affordability issues, particularly in urban centres like Vancouver. Indigenous peoples, racialized people, and marginalized groups face disproportionate barriers to economic opportunities and social services, which highlights the need for targeted policies to address systemic inequities. For example, 14.5 per cent of Indigenous British Columbians are considered to have a low income, compared to 8.8 per cent of BC’s overall population. 
The poverty rate among the Indigenous population in BC was 16.8 per cent in 2022, which is similar to the rate for this group in Canada as a whole (17.2 per cent). It was 20.6 per cent among First Nations people in BC and 12.1 per cent among Métis. 
According to the 2021 census, the rate of poverty among racialized people in BC is 13.2 per cent. In addition, immigrants, recent immigrants, and first-generation immigrants (born outside of Canada) experience poverty rates of 10.4 per cent, 15.7 per cent, and 15.5 per cent, respectively. Non-permanent residents (people who have a work or study permit or have claimed refugee status) experience a poverty rate of 41.3 per cent, which is similar to the rate experienced by non-permanent residents in Canada as a whole.

Labour and Education

Unemployment (5.5 per cent) and labour force participation (65.3 per cent) rates in BC are similar to the national averages. There are no signs of BC’s labour market being uniquely challenged with the exception that the province is home to the highest rate of people who say that upskilling and training workers is very important to them—45 per cent compared to 40 per cent nationally. 

Youth aged 15–29 who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) are at particular risk of poverty. In 2022, 10 per cent of youth in BC were in this situation. The rate was higher among men (13 per cent) than women (8 per cent). 

Access to affordable, high-quality childcare is an important barrier that prevents many families from being able to participate in the labour market. While the amount that families pay for childcare has declined across Canada since the federal Early Learning and Child Care Framework was established, BC’s progress has lagged considerably compared to the rest of the country. The average fees paid by families in BC declined by 6 per cent between 2019 and 2023, compared to 12 per cent nationally during that time. This appears to be closely related to the difficulty associated with getting access to a subsidized space. As a result, a much higher percentage of BC parents or caregivers who are experiencing difficulties reduce or change their hours of work to take on these care responsibilities themselves compared to people in a similar position elsewhere in the country. 

The cost of living and affordable housing

Between December 2022 and December 2023, the overall price of goods and services in BC increased by 3.4 per cent, which is on par with the country as a whole. The price of food experienced an increase by 5.4 per cent in BC, which is very close to the national average of 5 per cent. 

Shelter costs in BC, which was already the most expensive housing market in Canada, continued to increase above the national average in December (6.4 per cent in BC compared to 6.0 per cent across Canada). Rent increased by 8.6 per cent, which is slightly higher than the increase in Canada as a whole (7.7 per cent). The costs of owning a home increased by 6.7 per cent. The high cost of housing is reflected in a high level of core housing need, with about 1 in 10 households being in shelter that is too costly for their means. 

BC has the highest rate of people who say that social assistance rates are not high enough to keep up with the cost of living—41 per cent compared to 30 per cent in Canada as a whole.

Over the last year the BC government devoted considerable attention to a number of comprehensive housing policy reforms through its recently launched BC Builds plan. While the government claims to have supported the construction of nearly 78,000 housing units since coming to office in 2017, the CMHC estimates that the province’s

Notwithstanding this lacklustre progress with respect to actual construction, the province has developed an ambitious and aggressive housing plan that is
widely regarded as among the best in Canada. Consistent with a key recommendation we made last year, the provincial government has put forward a number of incentives to assist with the development of more purpose-built market rental housing, including access to low-cost loans using government-backed borrowing. This will help many British Columbians who are already struggling in the private market. Most importantly, the government’s plan means these units come with affordability targets so that at least 20 per cent are targeted for 20 per cent below-market rent. In addition, BC has made sweeping changes to zoning laws to legalize greater density and enable housing developers to construct more housing without going through lengthy approval processes.

This past year also saw the rollout of the long-promised refundable tax credit for renters, which provides $400 in assistance. As we highlighted in our recommendations last year, it has taken nearly seven years to introduce this credit and the amount offered has not been updated to reflect the significant rise in shelter costs during that time. While it is a welcome first step, the government must reconsider the credit’s purpose and design in light of today’s very different housing market, which appears to be worsening.

One housing policy tool the province has not yet used relates to the cost of housing construction as a result of development charges and fees. In Vancouver, it is estimated that these fees add $1.3 million to the cost of a single, detached home. The fees were increased by more than $10,000 per housing unit in Metro Vancouver last fall, which resulted in a temporary impasse between the federal government and local leaders over access to the federal Housing Accelerator Fund.

Later this year, BC residents will go to the polls and elect their next provincial government. Despite the current affordability crisis, the 2024 provincial budget made no new commitments to target poverty reduction. However, it is spending $1 billion on a one-time tax credit that will help families save an average of $100 on their electricity bills. This is a very large expenditure, spread very thinly, that will mostly help middle- and upper-income households heading into the election period.

Notably, though, the provincial budget did also announce a temporary, one-year bonus for the BC Family Benefit, which will provide more than $400 in additional support. This will bring the combined maximum benefit to nearly $2,200 for the first child.

As the provincial election draws closer it will be important to look at what, if any, commitments each political party makes with respect to poverty reduction. The province previously committed to providing a revised poverty reduction strategy in “spring 2024.” In March 2024, it tabled legislation for a revised 2018 Poverty Reduction Strategy with updated 10-year targets to reduce overall poverty and child poverty, new targets to reduce senior poverty, and changes to employment requirements for income and disability assistance. These are positive first steps and we look forward to seeing the full, revised strategy.

Accountability and Ambition

1. Introduce a new poverty reduction strategy with the goal of reducing poverty by 50 per cent by 2030.
In Progress
In Progress
In Progress

It is imperative that the province introduce its revised poverty reduction strategy before the election so that all British Columbians can decide for themselves whether it is adequate. The strategy should include a plan to bring BC’s poverty rate down to, or below, the national average for every major demographic by 2023. To support the revised strategy, the plan should include a requirement that: 

a. every two years, the province provide an interim update that forecasts the likelihood that the strategy’s goals will be achieved, and 

b. Cabinet put forward additional measures to address any gaps between the plan’s targets and results if and when they arise. This approach reflects current practices around climate budgeting in the environmental movement which have proven successful in increasing the effectiveness and stringency of policy action over time.

2. Require each political party to respond to the expert panel on basic income.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

During the forthcoming provincial election campaign, each major political party should be asked to indicate which of the expert panel’s recommendations they would and would not implement, and why. This would provide a much-needed basis for policy debate about whether BC should ultimately move toward a basic income program or accelerate practical changes in income security policy that could improve the quality of life for residents who have low incomes. The broadcast consortium, which televises the provincial leaders’ debate this fall, should ensure these questions are put to each party leader.

Housing

3. Maintain BC Housing’s capital budget at a minimum of $1.2 billion per year until 2030 and index it to inflation.
PRC New Policy
BC has an urgent need for more housing, but the gap between what is being built and what is still needed is widening at a rapid pace. In 2024, the province will spend $250 million less on capital projects at BC Housing compared to 2022. An investment of $1.2 billion would help to create an additional 750 units per year until 2030.

4. Develop a new fiscal framework that directs municipalities to use their surpluses to build affordable housing and prohibits them from generating surpluses greater than 2 per cent of total revenues while maintaining current tax levels for the next five years.
PRC New Policy

BC municipalities have relatively low property tax rates and large surpluses. In 2022, BC municipalities had a combined $3.5 billion in excess revenues, in addition to significant reserve funds and cash. Municipalities must respond to the current housing crisis with the urgency it requires and not leave money on the sidelines accumulating interest. While the framework is being implemented, municipalities should be required to spend half of their excess cash position over the next five years, and any additional surplus created during that time, on the construction and operation of affordable housing. This would unlock billions of dollars of new investment in affordable housing at no greater level of taxation than is currently levied

Childcare

5. Increase access to childcare by working with the federal government to invest an initial combined $260 million per year ($130 million each) to help hire more childcare providers and build more spaces.
PRC New Policy
While the cost of care has come down, early learning and childcare (ELC) is still not available to everyone who needs it. Too many parents are missing out on well-paying work opportunities because there are not enough childcare spaces. This in turn means that both the economy and families lose out. Last year, about 15,000 parents stayed at home or delayed returning to work because of insufficient access to childcare.

Income Security

6. Work with the federal government to deliver automatic tax filing.
PRC New Policy

Canadians who have low incomes are missing out on billions of dollars’ worth of potential benefits because they are not filing their tax returns. BC has the third-highest rate of non-filing in the country. This is problematic because eligibility for a number of provincial programs, including the recently established rent assistance program, is dependent on a verification of taxable income. 

BC should take a leadership role in working with the federal government to operationalize its commitment to develop approaches for automatic tax filing that would enable Canadians with low incomes to access the benefits they are entitled to. As a first step, BC should enable data-sharing with the Canada Revenue Agency so that every recipient of provincial assistance can file a simple declaration of income and automatically view eligibility for both federal and provincial benefits. This could potentially save the provincial government money and help unlock significant financial resources for those in the province who are particularly financially challenged.

7. Take a leadership role in the success of the Canada Disability Benefit.
PRC New Policy

With the federal government’s log-anticipated announcement of the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) to be launched in summer 2025, provinces will now play a critical role in the success—or failure—of the CDB given the potential implications for claw back on any new income that an individual receives. At minimum, BC should guarantee that there will be no attempt to claw back federal support from provincial residents in any way, and ideally the province should also look to use the CDB as a platform to integrate a variety of its own programs.

8. Index all provincial social benefits and credits and increase social assistance rates for single people by at least 10 per cent.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Despite successful poverty reduction efforts targeted towards demographics such as children, there has been no similar action to address the needs of the high proportion of single British Columbians who are living in poverty—for example, nearly 1 in 3 single adults aged between 18 and 64 are currently living in poverty in BC.

9. Reduce claw backs on low-income workers and introduce a new provincial earnings supplement.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Although BC recently increased the earnings exemption for people who receive income assistance, workers with low incomes still face relatively high rates of benefits claw back. To reduce this barrier to accessing good, stable employment, BC should examine the cost of introducing a provincial earnings supplement like Ontario’s Low-Income Individuals and Families (LIFT) credit and the federal Canada Workers Benefit (CWB). This could be incorporated as a key objective in the next iteration of the province’s poverty reduction strategy, with the goal of closing the poverty gap with the rest of Canada.