Policy Update: Poverty Reduction

UBCM has been actively involved in poverty reduction work since 2009. This article reviews our advocacy efforts to date, including our former involvement in the Community Poverty Reduction Strategies initiative with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Through this period, UBCM's advocacy efforts since then have included meetings with the Representative for Children and Youth and the Minister for Children and Family Development (MCFD), letters to the Premier and the Leader of Opposition, a 2009 Executive Resolution calling for the implementation of a comprehensive, cross-ministry strategy to address child poverty, and several Convention sessions on child poverty.

At the 2011 Convention session on child poverty, former MCFD Minister Mary McNeil asked UBCM to assist in coordinating conversations with local governments on how to reduce child poverty in BC communities. Though it wasn’t the provincial poverty plan that our members had asked for, UBCM felt that there would be benefits in engaging in poverty reduction work with the Province, and agreed to partner on this initiative for local poverty planning.

The initiative was officially launched in April 2012. Family consultants were provided by MCFD on a part time basis in 7 pilot communities (Prince George, Surrey, Port Hardy, Kamloops, Cranbrook, New Westminster, and Stewart). Their job was two-fold:

  • to coordinate and lead community teams in developing action plans that address the needs of families living in poverty; and
  • to connect low-income families with existing services in their communities. 

The action plans were to have measurable targets that would be implemented by September 2012. At the onset, MCFD and UBCM agreed that the initiative would begin with 7 communities and expand to include 20 communities each year for the next two years. It was also decided that a Project Steering Committee would be created, with participation from representatives from provincial cabinet, UBCM, the non-profit sector and the business community to provide guidance. UBCM’s role in the initiative was to encourage local government participation and provide direction.

In the first year, we heard from the pilot communities that the creation of the action plans was rushed. Local governments didn’t feel the plans for this initiative were in line with their own plans on poverty reduction, and some of the organizations that attended the action planning meetings felt that it was unrealistic for them to take on the work that was assigned to them as part of the planning process. The process of developing community action plans also did not accurately identify the gaps and needs within the pilot communities.

Participants also struggled with the broader vision of the initiative and what it was trying to accomplish. We also found that:

  • communities needed a small budget, to provide things like bus tickets, meals, meetings, and other items for low income families;
  • low-income families were being referred to programs that were over-subscribed;
  • the family consultants struggled with their part-time role in delivering both community development work and client services;
  • it was difficult to recruit families to the program;
  • there was an absence of services in small and rural communities;
  • other ministries needed to be involved; and
  • there was a need for an overarching provincial vision on this issue.

Though the above challenges were identified, there was positive feedback as well. Pilot communities felt the initiative provided an opportunity for communities to learn from one another and work together to address poverty. The initiative, through the work of the family consultants, also helped families to navigate the social programs available to them.

A hiatus took place in the second year of the project (2013) for about 6 months due to the pre and post provincial election period. When we reconvened, we were informed that the initiative had been moved to MCFD’s Practice Division, as there was no budget to hire poverty consultants for all BC communities. MCFD’s 52 practice consultants would now emphasize the importance of addressing poverty in their roles. The poverty consultants hired for the pilot phase of the project would remain for another year, and would help the Practice Division in identifying and addressing poverty issues.

UBCM’s Healthy Communities Committee continued to meet with the Ministry to discuss this new direction, and better understand how the 52 practice consultants would address poverty. We reiterated our request to the Ministry to establish the Steering Committee to help guide the initiative, and we continued to encourage the provincial government to develop a province-wide poverty plan. 

During this time, some participating local governments expressed concern as to whether or not the initiative was continuing. As well, two of the larger municipalities were in the process of creating their own Poverty Reduction Plans and had identified the need for the family consultants’ work to align with local government poverty reduction plans instead of in parallel.

We learned in the second year that the communities needed different types of support. The larger ones had the capacity to develop their own poverty reduction plans, while the smaller ones benefitted from more assistance in planning. On the family front, we found it was helpful for families to have a navigator to connect them with services. Also, family consultants remained in the 7 communities, and the work was not moved to MCFD’s practice division. The program, however, did not expand to other communities as initially intended, due to budgetary issues.

Over the last year, there have been further changes to the initiative including changes to the family consultants in some communities, and changes on local government councils due to local government elections. When this happens, it is difficult to keep the momentum in the communities and at the community planning tables.

There continues to be significant challenges for the 7 pilot communities, some of which were outlined earlier. But at our 2015 Stakeholder Forum, pilot communities were asked to recount their successes, and this was a moment when those involved realized how far they had come in the past 3 years. Though poverty reduction work can be slow, there were still successes.

As part of this initiative, we have learned that smaller communities, more so than larger ones, find more value in having a family consultant in their community, as they have very limited human resources to address poverty. It is also clear that communities feel that only so much can be done at the local level, and that provincial and federal governments need to step in and play a greater role.  And finally, it’s clear that successes are slow to be realized, and that much of that success depends on the creation and continuation of community planning tables with the appropriate members at those tables.

At this time, UBCM has decided to conclude our participation in this initiative. This decision comes after learning that the initiative is no longer a pilot and will be ongoing. Significant changes have been made since 2012, including that the initiative has not expanded to additional communities, as originally intended. The role of the family consultants has also been a point of significant discussion between UBCM and MCFD, and we are pleased that the family consultants will continue in their dual role of connecting families with services and playing a community development role.

Also the City of Prince George has provided notice that they are no longer participating in the program. Given these changes, we feel that this is an appropriate time to step away. We continue to encourage local governments to engage in poverty reduction work, and to review the reports and findings from this project, which are posted on UBCM’s website. 

Moving forward, UBCM will continue to advocate for a provincial poverty plan. We feel this has the greatest potential to affect change on poverty reduction in BC, and encourage the provincial government to undertake this work.

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