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British Columbia: Pathways to Ending Working Poverty in Action

Posted on November 14, 2021
By Jill Zacharias

On October 20, 2021, the Ending Working Poverty in British Columbia webinar co-generated intersectoral dialogue on one of the most important topics faced in Canada today.

The conversation demonstrated how, when governments, businesses and non-profits work together, the pathways to ending working poverty in Ending Working Poverty: How to get it done (Stapleton & Yuan, 2021) are being actioned today in British Columbia.


jonas-morgner-fW3MfPKL0oE-unsplash-1A disrupted labour market

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted BC’s labour market. In 2020, the province’s unemployment rate increased 90%, from 4.7% to 9%. Youth experienced the largest decline in employment, and women’s employment dropped by 17% (compared to 14% for men).

The biggest job losses were felt by the accommodation and food services industries, and the wholesale and retail sectors – those that have high rates of part-time workers and lower wages, and where jobs are often held by women and recent immigrants.


Rebuilding the economy to eliminate poverty

TogetherBC, BC’s first provincial government poverty reduction strategy has served as a guiding framework for many of the programs and supports that have helped to offset crises throughout the pandemic.

Speaking on the webinar, Nicholas Simons, BC Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, emphasized that despite reduction in BC’s poverty rate between 2016 and 2019 which reached legislated targets, “the ultimate goal is poverty elimination.” Adam Walker, Parliamentary Secretary for the New Economy, stressed that “poverty should not be a feature of the new economy.”

The speakers identified a number of different fronts to address working poverty that directly align with the 12 Pathways to Ending Working Poverty (below).


12 Pathways to Ending Working Poverty

For governments at all levels:

  1. Increase minimum wages to living wages.
  2. Increase child benefits.
  3. Reform working income security supplements so that they work together.
  4. Reform Employment Insurance.
  5. Disincentivize the policy environment that allows businesses to classify people as contractors rather than employees in the low-end gig economy.
  6. Fund initiatives that enable minorities and people with disabilities to obtain better work.
  7. Fund poverty reduction work at the city level.

For employers:

  1. Promote full time, full year work.
  2. Devise better work that attracts better pay.
  3. Recognize the value of essential work and pay for it accordingly.

For educators and social service providers:

  1. Provide the right supports, services, infrastructure, and community benefits.
  2. Plan, educate and train people for the better work of tomorrow.

Source: Ending Working Poverty in Canada: How to Get it Done (Stapelton & Yuan, 2021, p.3)


For the social sector, the Trail Community Skills Centre’s Women Creating Change project was grounded in time spent to create a safe space for women to be involved and empowered as part of the process. Subsequent programs involved support for re-training, scaling up employment, pivoting to non-traditional work, extended hours child care, and comprehensive poverty reduction planning. As an employer, Matthew Lowe of Community CarePlus in Victoria, BC, has grown business by an average of 50% per year while paying his employees a living wage.

For government, policies delivered under the TogetherBC strategy address multiple pathways.


Examples of anti-poverty action in BC policy

reid-naaykens-Cq0IDIeN08U-unsplashIncome and Employment:

Throughout the pandemic, BC’s Emergency Benefit for Workers, a one-time pandemic payment of $1,000, helped to offset job losses.

In June 2021, BC increased its minimum wage to $15.20 and eliminated lower wages for liquor servers. PS Adam Walker is currently leading the development of a strategy to address challenges facing gig workers and those with precarious employment, and BC’s Fair Wages Commission is examining the gap between minimum wage and living wage.

According to PS Adam Walker, preliminary analysis shows that wage increases have had no negative impact on employment. As well, PS Walker is currently exploring strategies to address precarious work, contracts, and the gig economy.

Families and Children:

Over the last three years, BC has funded the development of nearly 26,000 childcare spaces. On October 1, 2020, BC’s Child Opportunity Benefit came into effect to support families with annual household incomes up to $80,000.

Through COVID-19, BC expanded the number of $10/day child care prototypes and was the only province in Canada to provide temporary emergency funding for licensed child care centres that continued to operate.

Income and Disability Assistance:

The province has modestly increased Income Assistance (IA) and Disability Assistance (DA) rates and increased earning exemptions. Through COVID-19, recipients received a temporary crisis supplement of $300/month. Minister Simons noted that, so far during the pandemic, the number of IA and DA recipients have remained stable.

Training Supports and Paid Sick Leave:

BC’s employment supports, rolled out primarily through the WorkBC program, provide training and reduce barriers to employment.

Throughout COVID-19, more than 1,700 participants across 113 Indigenous communities benefited from Indigenous Skills Training Development Funding. Work Experience Opportunity Grants supported vulnerable individuals as they transitioned back into the work force, and victims of domestic violence have also been supported with up to five days of paid leave.

As of January 1, 2022, BC is expected to implement a provincial paid sick leave program, following consultation undertaken in 2021.

Support for Local Government:

Since 2020, the UBCM Poverty Reduction Program has funded nearly 40 local governments across the province to undertake poverty reduction planning and action.


A pathway to ending poverty

We know that certain demographics and industries have been hit harder than others by COVID-19, as the pandemic has amplified pre-existing vulnerabilities. BC’s government recognizes that these same demographics and industries will require additional supports in order to build back better. In partnership with business leaders and non-profit innovators, the province’s interministerial government strategy aims to do just that, as all sectors work together to end working poverty.



Poverty Reduction, British Columbia, CRP Publications, Homepage Blog, working poverty

Jill Zacharias

By Jill Zacharias

Jill has recently joined the Vibrant Communities team as the BC Manager of Growth and Impact, Cities Reducing Poverty. Jill brings extensive experience in municipal government, social planning and poverty reduction, and has worked closely with Tamarack as a CRP member and as chair of the BC Community of Practice on Poverty Reduction.

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