Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Most recently in my life, ending the child support clawback has been a perfect example of this. A small group of people worked together and we changed the lives of children for generations to come.
For a decade, B.C. had the highest child poverty rate. Half of kids in single parent households live in poverty. Right now, over 160,000 B.C. children don’t have enough food because their parents had to choose between paying the rent or putting food on the table. That’s enough to fill the Vancouver Canucks stadium nine times over. This is a big problem.
Government has the ability to alleviate poverty or make it worse. Unfortunately, the Liberals have abandoned many poverty-reducing policies in favour of those that create it. One glaring example is when they decided in 2001 to no longer allow children to keep their child support payments because their single parent received welfare or disability.
So when Rosie’s mom was injured, could no longer work and applied for disability, she lost the $150 per month in child support from her dad. Her dad paid it, but the government took it away. This has happened to tens of thousands of children in the past 15 years, and it is not right.
Organizations like First Call, BC ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and Disability Alliance BC have been calling on the government to end the child support clawback for years. The BC NDP committed to ending the clawback in both our 2009 and 2013 election platforms. But the Liberals weren’t budging. That’s when I decided we need to up the ante.
I’ll never forget the first meeting I had with provincial advocacy groups. After letting them know I was committed to taking this issue on with fervor in the legislature, we decided to work together to see this through and set our goal to have the clawback ended in the 2015 budget (if not sooner).
Then, I started to connect with affected parents. Single parents, mostly moms, from all over B.C. shared their stories and their children’s stories with me, and asked that I take them to the legislative assembly. Many of them came to the legislature themselves to press the government for change. Many more spoke out to their local media.
In these stories, we learned how families struggled. We met children who went to school hungry because the support intended to help feed them was being taken away by government. The people who learned about this for the first time universally agreed that we needed to end the clawback.
People of all political stripes were writing in, speaking out and taking action. The Union of BC Municipalities, Canadian Labour Congress, BC Teachers’ Federation, Canadian Federation of University Women and faith groups, to name a few, got involved. Two families along with the Single Mothers’ Alliance BC filed a legal challenge of the clawback. As we took every opportunity to press our case to government, we saw that they were feeling the pressure.
A few weeks before presenting the budget in the legislature, the minister of finance hinted that an end to the clawback may be coming up. Hopes ran high for families affected. But the best was when the Minister confirmed an end to the clawback during his budget presentation on Feb. 17. Families sitting in the legislature cried. For those who couldn’t be there, I called them later and one mom said through tears, “I can send my daughter to school with a proper breakfast and lunch now.”
The group of people who came together to end a poverty-creating policy succeeded. The result is that thousands of children each year will keep their child support, go to school with full tummies, learn better and have more opportunities to reach their full potential.
To all those kids and anyone who ever wonders if they can make a difference, I think Jack Layton’s words sum it up best. “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.