In 2008, the CEDAW Committee expressed concern “at reports of cuts in social assistance schemes in many provinces and at the resulting negative impact on the rights of vulnerable groups of women such as single mothers, aboriginal women, Afro-Canadian women, immigrant and migrant women, elderly women and disabled women, who rely on social assistance for an adequate standard of living.” While the Government of BC is responsible for implementing social assistance programs and standards, the CEDAW Committee was concerned at the lack of federal accountability and recommends that such programs be assessed and monitored to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable women are served. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has also expressed concern about women’s poverty in BC, and noted that inadequate social assistance presents an additional obstacle for women fleeing abusive relationships.
In its 2008 shadow report, the BC CEDAW Group documented numerous problems for women resulting from BC’s social assistance scheme. In 2009, BC’s Ombudsman released a report that is critical of social assistance in the province, and the Ministry of Housing and Social Development accepted 27 of the 28 recommendations. The resulting legal and policy amendments included one important change for single mothers of children aged three and under, who are no longer required to comply with a three week work-search requirement prior to being eligible to receive welfare. Despite this positive step, there has been little progress on improving social assistance for women since the last CEDAW Committee review in 2008. In fact, BC continues to have the highest overall poverty rate in the country at 13%, which includes disproportionately high numbers of women, children and Aboriginal people. With the economic crisis resulting in 47% more recipients of social assistance between September 2008 and May 2009, the government needs to work harder on ensuring equal access to sufficient social assistance for women and marginalized people.