Child poverty can be cut with tax and benefit changes

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
November 23, 2012

It’s just not fair. Ottawa pays even millionaires $100 monthly for every one of their children under 6 — the same amount paid to struggling single-parents with kids trapped in the coils of poverty.

And for low-income parents among the many too poor to pay much income tax, the federal government’s $300 Child Tax Credit and $75 Child Fitness Tax Credit (to enrol kids in sports) represent nothing more than benefits cruelly dangled beyond their grasp.

Those living comfortably have access to these tax credits while thousands of disadvantaged kids remain badly clothed, poorly fed, live in squalid housing and have little chance to play organized sports. It’s a wonder Canadians don’t hang their heads in shame.

welcome reform is being proposed by Campaign 2000, a national anti-poverty coalition. It involves cancelling the universal $100 monthly payout and the two tax credits beyond the reach of the very poor and giving all the money saved to the poverty-stricken.

This could put almost $2,000 into many poor people’s pockets by boosting their National Child Benefit income to a maximum of $5,400 a year, up from an existing limit of $3,485, according to a coalition report released this week.

Fleshed out with an additional $174 million from Ottawa (a pittance given the vast scope of the federal budget) it would mean lifting 174,000 kids out of poverty and cutting the national child poverty rate by 15 per cent.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty can’t complain that this approach would bust his budget. The proposed change mainly uses money the government already has. But Ottawa is dispensing it the wrong way, leaving too many poor Canadians without the help they need.

Despite that, of course, we don’t expect Flaherty to listen. The Conservatives have demonstrated, all too often, that they care little about the poor. These politicians aren’t stupid. They’re fully aware their existing policies are unfair and unduly deprive low-income people of vital assistance.

The universal $100 payout and assorted tax breaks introduced by this government have a different and obvious goal — buying middle class votes. They play to Canadians’ crass self-interest. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With proper and inspired leadership the public can be awakened to the injustice committed in its name. Parties now in opposition should make this a priority. Support can be garnered for replacing a hodgepodge of existing credits with a solid benefit to those who need it most.

The path to reform is clearly marked. What’s needed is sufficient political will to follow it.

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