Child poverty worse now than it was 20 years ago

Twenty-three years ago the federal government made a commitment to end child poverty by the year 2000.  Now, decades later, the government is reminded of its failure to follow through on this unanimous motion through annual child poverty reports released by Campaign 2000 and its partners.  What is now evident is that more children live in poverty now than in 1989.  In 2010, 979,000 or 14.5% of children in Canada were in poverty, where as in 1989 the number was 912,000 or 13.7%[1].  It is clear that commitments mean nothing without the will to take action.

Today Campaign 2000 and their partners released the child poverty report card for 2012, and the numbers are stark.  Titled, “Needed:  A federal action plan to eradicate child and family poverty in Canada” the report points out that 1 in 7 children are still living in poverty,  and in First Nations and Aboriginal communities the number is worse: 1 in 4.  It also reiterates that 38% of food bank users are children, a recent state by Food Banks Canada’s Hunger Count 2012 report.

The title of this year’s child poverty report care calls for immediate action by the federal government to create a poverty plan – a call that has been made by government committee reports (the HUMA report in 2010), although it has gone ignored by the current government.  Fortunately, there is an opportunity for this parliament to uphold the unanimous motion made in 2009 to enact a poverty plan with Bill C-233 – An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada.  This private members bill is currently in the House of Commons and would put in place measures needed for the government to develop a plan and be accountable for demonstrating progress on the elimination of poverty.  This Act is supported by a  number of civil society organizations, including the pan-Canadian coalition that Canada Without Poverty co-founded, Dignity for All.

While several provinces and territories have picked up the slack left by the federal government and developed poverty strategies, BC has made no such commitment and remains one of two regions without any intention to create a plan (along with Saskatchewan).  BC, notorious for the lowest child poverty and overall poverty rates, remains at the low end of the child poverty spectrum with 14.3% of children who are poor.  This is the second worse after Manitoba which sits at a shameful 17.6%.

So why are child poverty numbers so high?  The BC child poverty report card blankly states the top reason:  low wages.

According to Statistics Canada, the median average wage in 2010 was $20/hr.  Quoting a standard set by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that marks low-wages as anything 2/3 below the median wage, the BC report notes that low wage jobs are paying $13.33 or less.  In BC, 43% of children in poverty had one parent working a full-time, full-year job, and the depth of poverty (the distance between earnings and a poverty-line) is thousands of dollars.  Right now if you are an individual working full time for the entire year and earning minimum wage ($10.25 an hour), you will be $3,000 below the poverty line.

One of the highest costs to parents is childcare.  Campaign 2000 reported that the cost of childcare is now higher than university tuition.  The range in costs varies depending on province/territory with “$154/month in Quebec to $414/month for a toddler in Manitoba, to $600 – $800/month for a toddler in the rest of Canada”.  In BC it is particularly bad as the daycare can cost up to $1900 a month in Vancouver.  This is more than a mortgage or rent payment for most people.  Any strategy to eradicate poverty and child poverty must include measures to implement affordable child care programs across the country.

All levels of government have a role to play.  Transfers from both provincial and federal governments were noted as helping reduce overall child poverty levels.  Also given attention were the effects of active and coordinated provincial poverty plans.  However, as governments look to cut spending for social programs (housing, welfare, Old Age Security), people are at greater risk of falling into poverty.

In order to eradicate poverty in Canada Campaign 2000 recommends the following:

  • Creating a federal action plan for poverty and supporting legislation such as Bill C-233
  • Raise the federal  National Child Benefit  to $5,400
  • Establish a quality public system of early childhood education and care – funded by 1% of GDP
  • Develop a national housing strategy
  • Restore fairness to personal tax system (include principle of taxation by ability to pay)

See the Campaign 2000 website for regional child poverty cards from New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia.


[1] This is based on the LIM – Low Income Measure which sets the poverty line at 50% of the median income.

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