Child poverty widespread in Toronto-area ridings
High numbers of poor children live in 30 GTA ridings, a new report shows.
A whopping 30 federal ridings in the GTA have child poverty rates above the national average of 19 per cent, according to a new report.
Yet none of the federal leaders has adequately addressed the problem facing 1.3 million Canadian children, says the report by Campaign 2000, which for the first time maps child poverty riding by riding across the country.
The national non-profit coalition of more than 120 organizations has been urging Ottawa to develop an action plan since 1989, when Parliament first pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2000. All federal parties renewed the pledge in 2009 and again in February this year, and yet child poverty rates remain stubbornly high, the coalition says.
“Child poverty is often seen as an urban problem … but this shows it is a reality throughout the whole GTA and across the whole country,” said Anita Khanna, Campaign 2000’s national co-ordinator.
“It is located in every community in every riding, and it’s up to each federal party to recognize that and exercise federal leadership to level the playing field for children and their families,” she said.
Seven Ontario ridings — including five in Toronto — are among the 15 ridings with the highest concentrations of children living in poverty.
Child poverty rates ranging from 35 per cent to almost 40 per cent are concentrated in Toronto’s downtown, northwest and southeast ridings, according to the report, which uses Statistics Canada’s 2013 income tax data and the 308 federal ridings in place at the time. (Ottawa’s recently revised electoral map now includes 338 ridings.)
Nationwide, almost half of ridings have child-poverty rates above the national average. Hardest hit are ridings in Manitoba and Saskatchewan with high aboriginal populations. The northern Manitoba riding of Churchill has the highest rate of child poverty, with a staggering 65 per cent living below Statistics Canada’s after-tax low-income measure, the report shows.
Father of two Drow Zadoorian, 36, came to Toronto from Armenia with his family a year ago under Canada’s skilled worker program.
And yet the former university lecturer, with degrees in education, psychology and theology, says employers in his field won’t hire him due to his lack of Canadian experience.
When he applies for menial jobs to pay the bills, he is rejected because he lacks the skills. As a result, the family, which lives in Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s riding, has been forced to rely on welfare and child benefits to survive.
“Adults can understand and deal with (poverty) because we know hopefully we can change it,” he says. “But the children feel it most. They lose their childhood.”
Many become the next generation of parents raising children in poverty.
The Dejinta Beesha multi-service centre in north Etobicoke, which was set up 20 years ago to serve refugees from war-torn Somalia, is already seeing the cycle repeat itself.
“Without proper housing, income support and employment opportunities, I see children become adults with the same problems,” said the centre’s executive director, Mohamed Gilao. “This shows you how deep the poverty is and why we need things to change.”
Poverty reduction strategies are in place or in development in more than 40 municipal and regional governments, including Toronto, and in every province and territory except British Columbia, Campaign 2000 notes.
The lack of a federal response is out of step with Canadians’ concerns about poverty, as witnessed this week by the numerous food drives and donations to assist local families, the report says.
“On the eve of Thanksgiving, the maps are an unsettling reminder of Canada’s child poverty epidemic,” said Khanna. “But a charitable response alone will not be able to drive down rates this high across the country. We need federal leadership, and we urge all parties to respond with their plan of action.”
Recommendations to end child poverty
- Federal action plan, with targets and timelines drafted in consultation with provincial and territorial governments as well as community groups and the poor.
- Child benefit of at least $5,600 per child, indexed to inflation.
- Federal plan drafted in consultation with indigenous organizations.
- Good jobs program to address precarious work, involuntary part-time work and working poverty.
- National daycare program.
- New federal-provincial funding formula to enhance social assistance and other social services.
- Comprehensive national housing strategy.
Credit: Campaign 2000