Child poverty rate will grow, advocates warn


Meagan Fitzpatrick
November 22, 2008 
Almost one child in nine in Canada is living in poverty despite a promise made 19 years ago by Parliament to eradicate child poverty, and advocates are cautioning that statistic will worsen with the current economic downturn unless the federal government implements a national poverty reduction strategy.

In an annual report card on poverty released yesterday, a coalition of organizations called Campaign 2000 said 760,000 children were living in low-income families in 2006 – the latest year for which statistics are available.

In First Nations communities, one in every four children is growing up in poverty.

Low-income is defined as a two-person family (one parent and one child, for example) with a total income of $21,300 after taxes. The child poverty rate of 11.3 per cent is virtually the same as in 1989 when the House of Commons pledged to eliminate child poverty by 2000.

“As we head into economic insecurity, it’s even more crucial for the federal government to commit to a poverty reduction plan with additional public investment in the social security of families,” Laurel Rothman, head of Campaign 2000, told an Ottawa news conference “Without action from our senior governments, poverty rates will increase during this economic downturn.”

She and other advocates warned that the last time Canada was in recession – the late 1980s and early 1990s – the child poverty rate rose to one in five children.

“We shouldn’t allow that to happen again,” said Andrew Jackson of the Canadian Labour Congress. “It’s shameful enough we’ve made no progress, but to allow a big increase to take place as we enter a recession would be absolutely unacceptable.”

Dawnmarie Harriott’s 11-year-old son is one of the thousands of children growing up in poverty in Canada. The 37-year-old single mother from Brampton, Ont., is unemployed and relies monthly on a $904 social assistance cheque to cover her bills, rent, food, medication for her son’s attention deficit disorder, bus fare, and other living costs.

“Every month is a fight,” she said. Her son sometimes has to miss out on school field trips, pizza lunches or other activities and when the cupboard starts getting bare, she sees him getting worried, she said.

Increasing minimum wage would be a good start to helping struggling families, and making affordable and quality child care more available, Harriott said.

The report calls for Ottawa to develop a strategy that would reduce the child poverty rate by a minimum of 25 per cent in the next five years and by half in 10 years. Some of the measures that should be in the plan, according to Campaign 2000, are enhancing the child benefit for low income families; changing the rules for Employment Insurance and using some of the fund’s surplus; establishing a federal minimum wage of $10 per hour; a national housing plan; and a national child care

Credit: Times Colonist

Dawnmarie Harriott