25 years since Canada vowed to end child poverty, where are we now?

A new report finds a lack of progress in reducing child poverty in Canada, despite a commitment from members of Parliament more than two decades ago to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000. Adam Berry / Getty Images
TORONTO – A new report finds a lack of progress in reducing child poverty in Canada, despite a commitment from members of Parliament more than two decades ago to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000.

Released Monday, the Campaign 2000 annual report release also marks five years after the entire House of Commons voted to develop an immediate plan to end poverty for all in Canada.

“Yet more children and their families live in poverty as of 2012 than they did when the House of Commons unanimously resolved to end child poverty more than 25 years ago,” read the report.

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The report gathered Statistics Canada tax-filer data and found that child and family poverty has increased to 1,331,530 children in 2012 from 1,066,150 children in 1989.

READ MORE: Toronto’s child poverty rate among the highest in Canada, says report

“The federal government is a central player when it comes to eliminating child poverty in this country,” said Laurel Rothman, national coordinator of Campaign 2000. “They are the largest public institution that can and should help us.”

The report, Child Poverty 25 Years Later: We Can Fix This, addresses changes that need to be made to the labour market, the need for a national childcare program and the necessity for substantial and sustained housing for low-income families.

“The way we treat our most vulnerable people is a signal of the kind of society we want and the kind of environment we want our children to grow up in,” said Rothman.

Campaign 2000 began in 1991 out of concern about the lack of government progress in addressing child poverty and includes a non-partisan coalition consisting of more than 120 partner organizations from across the country working at the local, provincial and/or national level to address the realities of poverty.

Measuring poverty in Canada

Unlike the United States and some other countries, Canada has no official, government mandated poverty line—meaning different groups rely on different statistics when it comes reporting on national poverty rates.

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As such, this makes “measuring poverty in our country difficult,” said Rothman, stating Campaign 2000 used Statistics Canada’s low-income measure after tax (LIM-AT) as the basis for their report. LIM-AT measures 50 per cent of the median annual income of households and is adjusted for family size.


Child poverty then and now. Campaign 2000/Handout

According to report authors, many groups once relied on the annual release of “Incomes in Canada” for data on the rate and number of people living in poverty. That data was collected in the Survey of Labour Income Dynamics (SLID), which was discontinued in 2013.

READ MORE: Ontario fails to meet child poverty reduction target; blames Ottawa

“This year has become the most difficult year since 1989 to report on child and family poverty,” read the report.

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Last month, for example, UNICEF stated that Canada’s overall child poverty rate decreased from 23 to 21 per cent during the recession from 2008 to 2011, pulling roughly 180,000 children out of poverty.

Yet for Canada’s most vulnerable children, the UNICEF report also found that conditions deteriorated and that the child poverty gap—the difference between the median income of poor children and the poverty line—increased two percentage points.

Government’s role: who is responsible?

While public policies such as the Canada Child Tax Benefit/ National Child Benefit Supplement and the Child Disability Benefit have made an impact to families, the report said those policies do not make a “big enough difference to dial down the child poverty rate substantially or to sustain less child poverty.”

In an email statement to Global News, Candice Bergen, minister of State for Social Development, cited the UNICEF October report and stated the government’s actions to reduce child poverty are “clearly working.”

“Every family with children in Canada will stand to benefit from our latest tax breaks, including the increase and expansion of the Universal Childcare Benefit to nearly $2,000 per year for every child under six, and $720 per year for every child between six and 17, and the Family Tax Cut. The vast majority will flow to low and middle income families. The Liberals and NDP would take these benefits away from families,” said Bergen.

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READ MORE: Child poverty down in Canada during recession

She continued, “Last month UNICEF reported that the child poverty rate in Canada decreased during the recession, pulling roughly 180,000 children out of poverty. UNICEF credited this decrease to our Government’s action to put money back in the pockets of Canadian families.

The number of Canadians living below the Low Income Cut-off is now at its lowest level ever (8.8%). Since 2006, there are 225,000 fewer children living in poverty in Canada.  Clearly, our strategy is working.”

Rothman, meanwhile, called the statement from Bergen’s office “shallow and misleading,” stating Canada lacks an official poverty measure and that low levels of poverty have not be achieved or sustained for a lengthy period of time.

Canada’s most vulnerable

The report said that four in 10 of Canada’s indigenous children, including Métis, Inuit, nonstatus First Nations who live off-reserve and status First Nations children on reserve, live in poverty.

According to the report, in First Nations communities where the federal government has the major role in funding income support and community services, “one out of two status First Nations children lives in poverty.”

“For status First Nations children, education and child welfare are essential services that have the potential to improve their wellbeing and long-term economic status significantly,” read the report. “Yet neither system has sufficient physical nor financial resources to meet the needs of the children and families that they serve.”

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What’s next?

Rothman said the government of Canada should introduce a federal action plan with targets and timelines to reduce and eradicate poverty in consultation with the provinces and territories, Aboriginal governments and organizations, nongovernmental organizations and people living in poverty.

Other recommendations include the following:

  • An enhanced child benefit for low-income families to a maximum of $5,600 per child (2014 dollars, indexed to inflation) by streamlining support to families through the taxation and transfer systems.
  • A plan to prevent, reduce and eventually eradicate child and family poverty in indigenous families developed in conjunction with indigenous organizations. Enhancements to Employment Insurance that expand access, duration and levels of benefits.
  • Proactive strategies, including employment equity in the public and private sectors, and a sensible training strategy accessible to those not on EI to level the playing field for racialized communities and other historically disadvantaged groups.
  • A national Early Childhood Education and Care program, led by the federal government and developed collaboratively with provinces/territories and indigenous communities, which includes a well-developed policy framework based on the principles of universality, high quality and comprehensiveness.

Rothman said we need to make opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty.

“When governments do set priorities and choose to implement strategies to achieve those goals, they can be successful,” she said. “We can do it.”

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