High hopes for federal action to end child poverty

High hopes for federal action to end child poverty

 Steve Russell / Toronto Star Order this photo Escaping an abusive marriage, Laurice Loo is piecing her life together with a woman-focused job training program. Her young son Timothy is currently in daycare.

Steve Russell / Toronto Star Order this photo
Escaping an abusive marriage, Laurice Loo is piecing her life together with a woman-focused job training program. Her young son Timothy is currently in daycare.

Laurie Monsebraaten

Nov 24 2015

Canadians have elected a government that appears ready to tackle child poverty with a list of progressive measures, including a new national benefit that could lift 315,000 children out of poverty, say advocates who have been urging federal action for a generation.

The challenge will be to encourage provinces not to clawback the money from families on welfare and to ensure Ottawa acts quickly on its pledge to develop a national anti-poverty strategy with goals, timetables and sustained funding, says Campaign 2000 in its annual report to be released Tuesday.

The Liberals’ promises to invest in affordable housing and child care, to reform employment insurance and to make maternity and parental leave more flexible, also have the potential to reduce child and family poverty, the report says.

“Our message to the new government is: ‘Let’s do it right,’ ” said Anita Khanna, national co-ordinator of the non-partisan coalition of 120 groups and individuals. “Let’s do it thoughtfully and make sure we don’t squander this once-in-a generation opportunity.”

More than 1.34 million Canadian children — almost one in five — are living in poverty, a figure that has ballooned since 1989 when Parliament first vowed to eradicate the problem by the millennium. The pledge was repeated in 2009 and again earlier this year, but Ottawa has yet to develop a concrete plan to keep the promise, says the coalition’s report.

Canada needs a comprehensive strategy, tied to legislation, with a goal of cutting child poverty by half to 9.5 per cent from 19 per cent within five years, the report says.

The report uses Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure, after taxes (LIM-AT), to define poverty, a calculation used internationally and by most provinces in their poverty-busting plans. By that measure, a lone parent with one child living on less than $24,319 would be considered poor, as would a couple with two children living on less than $34,742. The calculations are based on 2013 tax filer data, the latest available statistics.

The coalition wants Canada, which has no official poverty line, to adopt the LIM-AT to measure progress.

“It is vitally important that Canada seize the opportunity to lay out a solid framework to eradicate poverty,” said Dr. Sid Frankel, Professor of Social Work at University of Manitoba. “This framework must be developed collaboratively with provincial and territorial governments, aboriginal governments and organizations, non-governmental organizations and people living in poverty.”

Every province except British Columbia has or is in the process of drafting poverty-reduction strategies.

Ottawa should also earmark $500 million in emergency daycare funds to help provinces shore up regulated programs while developing a national early-learning and child-care framework and long-term federal funding, the coalition says.

Toronto single mother Laurice Loo’s Timothy, 2, is among the city’s 144,000 children living in a low-income family. But without affordable child care, Loo doesn’t know how she will be able to make a better life for him.

“I hope my son will not have to grow up in poverty,” says Loo, 32.

Loo, an administrative assistant who moved to Canada from the Philippines to get married in 2011, struggled to survive on a $12-an-hour job while her husband also juggled low-wage work.

Their financial woes ultimately erupted into domestic abuse, and she fled to a shelter with her baby last spring, she says.

Loo is grateful for the shelter staff who helped her find a subsidized apartment and a women-focused job training program this fall. But with less than $1,400 a month in welfare and child benefits, she is worried about how she will pay for daycare when the training program ends in December.

“The program provides child care, which is allowing me to move forward,” says Loo, who wants to work in the social service sector to help others. “But if I don’t find a job or get into another program, I lose the child care. And then I am stuck.”

Loo’s experience shows why a comprehensive approach is necessary, said Khanna.

“We’ve seen that a piecemeal effort won’t work,” she said. “Canada has a lot of catching up to do. We have to act in a comprehensive way to tackle this problem once and for all. We can’t afford to squander another generation.”

Credit{ Toronto Star

Dawnmarie Harriott