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30 years later, child poverty remains a national disgrace

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Author: 
Khanna, Anita; Frankel, Sid; Friendly, Martha &; Bleyer, Peter
Publication Date: 
6 Jul 2018
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With alarming child poverty rates once again making front-page news across the country and the next federal election on the horizon — how serious are we about eradicating poverty?

Canada’s first national poverty reduction strategy will soon be released by the federal government. The strength of the strategy, the magnitude of investments, the ambition of the government’s poverty reduction targets and accountability timelines will reveal whether this is an action plan Canadians can be proud of, or simply empty talk.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Child poverty remains a national disgrace. Research by Campaign 2000, a national, non-partisan network of community partner organizations working to end child and family poverty in Canada, shows every single federal riding is home to significant numbers of children in poverty. Despite Canada being one of the world’s richest countries, 4.8 million people live in poverty — 1.2 million are children. More than 850,000 Canadians rely on food banks — and those numbers are growing — and more than 250,000 Canadians experience some form of homelessness annually.

Deplorably, Indigenous peoples, racialized Canadians, new immigrants, seniors, those affected by disability or in lone-parent led families are likely to live in poverty due to systemic discrimination.

Politicians have been good at making resolutions but bad at carrying them out. Instead of cutting poverty over the last three decades, we’ve seen tax and program cuts, the steady growth of precarious work and insufficient investments in our social safety net.

With the 30th anniversary of the House of Commons all-party resolution to end child poverty by the year 2000 approaching, now is a prime opportunity to implement an effective national plan that leaves no child or family behind.

There have been some encouraging signals. Since taking office, the federal Liberal government has made child poverty a top priority, notably through its revamped, more generous Canada Child Benefit. The child benefit is a historic step forward in Canada’s battle against poverty, but it is not enough. Even if the federal government’s highest estimate that the benefit is lifting 415,000 children out of poverty is realistic, that still leaves 785,000 children in poverty. Targeted generous child benefits are essential to lowering poverty rates, but poverty is complex, it cannot be wiped out by a single policy.

Statistics Canada’s Canadian Income Survey captures the effects of the first six months of child benefit payments made to families during 2016. It shows only a 1.2 percentage point decrease in the low income rate among children in 2016 compared to 2015. Parents are stretching the benefit to fill the gap left by inadequate income supports to pay for food, diapers, transit and rent increases. The very costs these child benefits are helping to cover should be priorities in a comprehensive national poverty reduction strategy. These priorities have been articulated in the Alternative Federal Budget released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which has wide support from social justice organizations across the country.

What should the strategy look like?

A comprehensive national strategy must invest in equitable resources and program delivery for Indigenous families, including child welfare services and housing. It must have adequate, well-directed funding for quality child-care services so that parents can work and attend training. The child benefit and extensions to parental leave cannot replace universal child care.

Other fundamentals include affordable housing, universal pharmacare, more equitable, accessible and generous parental leave, mandating a federal minimum wage and creating jobs that pay living wages.

The plan must ensure adequate, accessible income programs such as a poverty-buster initiative that would see $1,800 per year given to each adult and child living in poverty. The new Dignity Dividend would be a top up to the GST credit and would lift 560,000 people out of poverty — half of whom are children. These essential anti-poverty investments cannot wait until after the election. Immediate action is needed.

Finally, the strategy must be grounded in law to ensure effective accountability. A commitment to passing legislation entrenching responsibility for a strong national strategy before the 2019 election will ensure that progress toward poverty reduction remains a clear responsibility for all future governments.

It’s time for the federal government to show how serious Canada is about eradicating poverty with a comprehensive human rights-based strategy with clear investments, targets, timelines and legislation in the 2019 federal budget to end poverty within a decade.

Canadian children and their families have been waiting for almost 30 years. Political action is long past due.

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Entered Date: 
10 Jul 2018
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