Engaging People with Lived Experience of Poverty to Build and Implement British Columbia’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy

In 2016, British Columbia (B.C.) had the second highest poverty rate in Canada but was the only province without a poverty reduction strategy. To inform its first strategy, a new government completed the most extensive poverty engagement to date in Canada, focusing on people with lived experience of poverty.

To address barriers, B.C. used a range of innovative engagement approaches including direct supports for participants, dedicated Indigenous engagement and funding grants to non-profits.

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B.C. has had one of the highest poverty rates in Canada for decades and the second highest poverty rate in Canada in 2016, with 12% of the population living in poverty in 2016 according to Canada’s Official Poverty Line. This represents 557,000 people including 99,000 children.

Despite these rates, BC was the only province in Canada that had not developed a poverty reduction strategy. This started to change in 2017 with the election of a new government with a key commitment to develop a strategy with legislated targets and timelines.

To inform B.C.’s first poverty reduction strategy, an extensive engagement took place from October 2017-March 2018. The goal was to ensure that government heard from diverse populations throughout the province, with a particular focus on people living in poverty who had never been consulted on the issues facing them or what solutions are needed.

Government recognized that people in poverty have significant socio-economic barriers to participating in traditional engagement processes. These include geographic barriers, with people living in rural and remote communities; financial barriers, such as the cost to purchase a bus ticket or food costs when away from home; physical barriers, such as mobility issues; and social barriers, as people can feel stigmatized or discriminated against in their communities for being poor. The goal of the engagement was to address these barriers to the greatest extent possible to ensure that the strategy was informed by those most affected by poverty.

B.C. undertook a range of innovative approaches to achieve this goal. Government appointed an external advisory forum on poverty reduction, which included people with lived experience of poverty. This Forum co-designed the engagement, and their feedback influenced major elements, including changing complex questions originally posed to simply: “what issues are facing you and/or people living in poverty in your community?”; and, “what solutions could help make a difference?”

The Province hosted 28 community meetings, all attended by Cabinet members. Key innovative approaches of the meetings included:
• Community outreach to homeless shelters and non-profit organizations to encourage attendance
• A warm meal at each meeting, along with containers for leftovers
• A $20 participation stipend for participants who self-identified as living in poverty
• Community facilitators who supported the conversations, making sure everyone’s voice was heard
• On-site mental health and harm reduction support workers
• Secure storage for people who were homeless’ belongings
• Other accommodations to support participation including bus tickets, taxi fares, and child care

While in communities, Cabinet members met with local government representatives, business and community leaders.

The Forum also recommended government provide grants to non-profit organizations to support 100 small group discussions with groups facing poverty-related barriers or who lived in rural and remote communities. This was an overwhelming success with a 100 percent feedback return rate.

To respect B.C.’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, B.C. collaborated with Indigenous organizations to create a dedicated Indigenous engagement process. In discussions, Indigenous leaders advised that engagement in their communities should be self-determined. To meet this request, funding was provided directly to three Indigenous organizations in B.C. to host their own community meetings and provide feedback in a format that worked best for their community. The Indigenous engagement process included meetings with First Nations leadership organizations in B.C., grants for community meetings in rural and remote Indigenous communities, and separate Indigenous (First Nations and Metis) consultations.

Other more traditional engagement processes were also in place, such as an engagement website for feedback and a voicemail system. In total, over 8,500 people participated, with 60 percent of people self-identifying as having lived experience of poverty. An overview of the engagement is captured in a public consultation report, “What We Heard about Poverty in B.C.”

The B.C. government greatly benefited from the engagement. In November 2018, the B.C. Legislature unanimously passed the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act, which includes a goal to reduce the poverty rate by 25 percent for all people in poverty and 50 percent for children by 2024. The strategy, TogetherBC, was released on March 18, 2019, and outlines a cross-government approach to achieving the targets. The Act also commits government to engage people with lived experience of poverty in the implementation of the strategy through an Advisory Committee, and to hold an engagement each time the strategy is reviewed/updated, at least every 5 years, so it continues to be informed by the experiences of people in poverty, regardless of the government of the day.

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