Time to purge child poverty

TheGuardian.pe.ca – Opinion/Editorials
Published on December 2, 2011.

Our parliamentarians may mean well when they say they want to eradicate child poverty, but until they actually make a meaningful dent in the problem, child advocacy groups are right to keep hounding them.

Clearly Canadians have to keep their politicians’ feet to the fire on this shameful reality.

Campaign 2000, a coalition of anti-poverty groups, issued its latest report card last week on the progress made to eradicate child poverty in the country. And it isn’t encouraging. According to the group, the number of children living in poverty in Canada has dropped by only 20 per cent in the last 20 years, in spite of the fact the economy itself has more than doubled in that time, in spite of the pledge made by the House of Commons in 1989 to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000, and in spite of a further pledge in 2009 to eradicate all poverty. Clearly talk is cheap.

While the parliamentarians sitting in Ottawa today aren’t the same ones who made the 1989 pledge, and some weren’t there in 2009, they’re nevertheless bound by the commitment of their predecessors who were simply acting on a priority expressed by Canadians.

That so little has been accomplished in 22 years may be disheartening, but there’s hope in scolding our MPs. With each report card – the coalition has issued an annual one each year for the last 20 years – our politicians are reminded of their obligation. At some point, they have to act.

In this report card, according to a Canadian Press story, the coalition found one in 10 Canadian children living in poverty, with this statistic jumping to one in four among children in First Nations communities. Children of immigrants or children in families with disabilities are also vulnerable to poverty, the report card said.

Among other things, the group wants a federal action plan to cut poverty in half by 2020 to be entrenched in legislation, national strategies for housing and child care, reforms to employment insurance and more generous child benefits for low-income families.

These are fairly ambitious demands, and if government finds them daunting, it’s not surprising. They imply hefty costs at a time when the economy is in turmoil and the global economic outlook is precarious.

But it’s precisely for these reasons that our politicians need to act now. It’s the poor who suffer even in healthy economic times, and it’s the poor who feel the harshest effects of an ailing economy. It’s well past time that our politicians delivered on the pledge made in 1989.

One observation in the report is troubling. According to Laurel Rothman, the coalition’s national co-ordinator, the belief that having a job is enough to ward off poverty and that the poor are to blame for their own plight is still prevalent.

That’s unfortunate, because we should know better. If the downturn in the global economy in the last few years has demonstrated anything, it’s the interdependency and vulnerability of nations and people when a segment of the economy goes sour. There’s really no safe harbour. Loss of employment and financial security can happen to anyone. That should make all of us more compassionate and less judgmental and it should deepen our appreciation of the need for a strong social safety net. At the very least, it should prompt us to look after our children. Even the most judgmental among us can’t hold them responsible for their plight.

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1 Comment

  1. This article highlights the Canadian government’s hesitation to truly eradicate child poverty and stresses the importance of ongoing advocacy for policy change.

    The fact that child poverty has only dropped 20 percent in 20 years (para. 3) is unacceptable given reported steady economic growth. Instead of putting more money in the pockets of wealthy Canadians, governments should reallocate funds to implement reasonable income security programs for children and families, especially children of lone-parent families. Given the correlation between low income and determinants of health, prolonging the issue of child poverty would only increase expenses in other systems such as health care.

    Again we see the misconception that employment is enough to solve the issue of poverty and that it must be the person’s fault. Policy makers continue to hold true to the their individualist roots and beliefs. How can the government blame children for child poverty? Are they placing the blame on the parents? In reality, many Canadian families are working long hours to make ‘ends meet’ and sacrifice their own health and opportunities to provide for their children. Research shows that a market economy will not regulate itself and will not naturally solve unemployment or poverty amongst children and families. Meaningful intervention is required. Not just empty promises as seen with the governments pledge in 1989 to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000 and again in 2009 (para. 3).

    One of the most important points the author makes, is that despite the discouraging statistics, child advocacy is crucial, now more than ever. With the economic downturn in the past few years, low-income families need support. Campaign 2000’s annual report continues to maintain awareness to the general public and serves as a reminder to the government that child poverty still exists. With further advocacy, initiatives and recommendations, the government may be more inclined to actually follow through with their word.

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