Canada should muster the will to ease child poverty
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Wed May 30 2012
Poverty can be tricky to define and quantify. By almost any standards a poor Canadian child is far better off than one living in most other countries. But as Parliament recognized when it vowed to eliminate child poverty by 2000, that hardly frees us from our duty as a rich and caring society to do the best we can for those in need.
By the high standard Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government set in 1989, we are falling sadly short. Almost a generation later the haunting face of poverty in this country continues to be that of a child, the United Nations Children’s Fund confirms.
“Canada’s child poverty rate is higher today than when that target was first announced,” a new UNICEF report finds. (The agency defines poverty as living on less than half the national median income.) We now rank a dismal 24th of 35 industrial countries, behind Britain, Australia and much of Europe. And even more disturbingly, our child poverty rate of 13.3 per cent is nearly 2 points higher than our national rate of 11.4 per cent. We’re failing our kids.
While Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government may not care to admit it, others are doing better. That includes rich nations such as Australia, Germany, the Nordic states and Japan. It also includes Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta and Latvia. In all those places — and more — the child poverty rate is lower than the general rate. Canada’s performance is shabby by comparison.
As the United Nations right-to-food envoy pointed out earlier this month, in a report that sparked much Tory indignation, hunger is a reality here. Some 900,000 people relied on food banks last year, 30 years after they sprang up as a stopgap amid the 1981-82 recession. That’s an inconvenient truth for poverty deniers. Meanwhile, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives calculates that Ottawa has forgone $48 billion in revenue over the past decade by cutting personal and corporate taxes. We don’t lack the means to address poverty if we choose.
Reports come and go. UNICEF Canada used this one to ask Ottawa to hike the Child Tax Benefit to an indexed $5,000 a year from $3,485, and to let parents with kids under 18 to retain more earned income from the Working Income Tax Benefit and employment insurance. Good ideas. But more fundamentally, UNICEF urged our politicians to muster the political will to make children a budget priority, giving them “first call” on our resources.
At root, we need a change of mindset. Other countries find ways to put the kids first. So should we.
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