‘Trapping people in poverty’: Furstenau challenges power distribution in B.C.’s legislative changes

B.C.’s Green Party leader is raising concerns about the province’s recently announced poverty reduction goals for what she describes as a flawed distribution of power.

Sonia Furstenau says she’s concerned the provincial government’s new 10 year targets focused on lifting seniors and children above the poverty line give the minister in charge too much authority.

The new legislation was announced Tuesday by Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s social development and poverty reduction minister. Malcolmson said the three laws being changed as a result of this new legislation will set higher targets to cut poverty, ease employment requirements for people on income and disability assistance, and provide more supports.

However, Furstenau says the government has put too much focus on drawing people’s attention to the changes being made and not enough on now the power to implement these changes is being distributed.

Her issue is with the “enormous amount of power” being given to the minister, which she explains is then delegated to directors all over the province. She’s worried the changes place “additional burdens” on those already receiving financial assistance.

Furstenau says in the province’s 2020 basic income report, it was made clear that B.C.’s “income assistance programs are incredibly complex and incredibly hard to navigate for people.”

“They’re not serving to lift people out of poverty, they really are trapping people in poverty and my concerns about this legislation is we’re just seeing the potential to trap even more people in poverty,” she said.

In particular, Furstenau mentions the new Client Needs Assesment and Employability Plan as a barrier that could lead to more people having their assistance taken away by those in charge.

“If you’re receiving income assistance and you’re not meeting what is expected of you in terms of an employability plan, you’re considered out of compliance and that assistance can be taken away,” she said.

Even more worrying, Furstenau says, is the clause that details a minister can “amend, suspend or cancel” an employability plan at any time and that decision is not “open to review in a court on any ground.”

“They’re really handing over pretty significant powers to the directors all over the province to say ‘this person no longer qualifies and we’re revoking their assistance,'” she said.

Meanwhile, Furstenau says these changes don’t address the continuous calls from advocates to increase assistance rates to keep up with the cost of living.

“Poverty hurts all of society, growing inequality hurts all of society,” she said.

She adds she’s upset poverty wasn’t a bigger issue in B.C.’s recently announced Budget 2024.

According to Malcolmson’s announcement, the legislation introduced Tuesday commits to cut overall poverty in B.C. by 60 per cent over the next decade.

With files from The Canadian Press and Srushti Gangdev.

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