The scourge of child poverty

When Ed Broadbent was stepping down as leader of the New Democrat Party in 1989 he committed to one last campaign that brought about a unanimous parliamentary motion pledging to eliminate child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.  Unfortunately, the will of parliament was not matched by the will of finance ministers, prime ministers, and those people who can bring about enduring change as the latest statistics on child poverty paint a stark picture.

This past week, Campaign 2000 (a cross-Canada public education movement designed to build awareness and support for the 1989 all-party resolution) released its annual Report Card on Child and Family Poverty .  It has been 23 years since the challenge was framed by parliament and three years since another unanimous House of Commons resolution "to develop an immediate plan to end poverty for all in Canada".   Yet this year’s statistics show the challenge is more daunting than ever.

The 2012 report, entitled Needed: A Federal Action Plan to Eradicate Child and Family Poverty in Canada, calls on the government to take the lead role in child and family poverty reduction. It is peppered with policy recommendations and calls on all political parties to work on the persistence of child and family poverty in Canada.

The shocking fact is that more Canadians live in poverty in 2012 than did in 1989.  Currently, one in seven children lives in poverty, which serves to remind everyone how far we have to go to put a serious dent in the numbers and reverse the growing trend.

New Democrats used the report’s release as an opportunity to press the Conservatives to put aside ideology and adopt Campaign 2000’s recommendations.  Economic gains that come at the expense of Canadian families are hollow and ultimately costly.  If we can merely accept growth in child poverty as a side effect of an economy skewed to favour foreign investment and raw resource  exports, it says a lot about our priorities and how disengaged our leadership is on the issues that people face every day.

The government’s much touted action plan has no action for children.  Instead of placing poverty reduction at the centre of our economic recovery plan, it is an afterthought, if that.  According to Campaign 2000’s report card, without a national anti-poverty strategy, poverty levels in Canada will continue to increase, compromising future generations’ success and threatening our economic stability.  As economic managers the Conservatives should know that poverty is said to cost Canada over $72 billion every year.

The solutions don’t have to be complex or even costly.  Campaign 2000 tells us that the federal government has a variety of family tax credits meant to help low and middle income families that could be better administered and delivered.  Removing barriers such as up- front expenditures would allow more people to benefit as intended.  If the federal government streamlined all current family and child tax credits into one, based on a sliding scale set to income, 174,000 children would be lifted out of poverty.  That would be an economic recovery plan  that would get all-party support .