967,000 children living in poverty — 24 years after federal pledge to eradicate it.
Almost a generation after Ottawa’s vow to eradicate child poverty by 2000, national and provincial report cards show very little sustained progress.
One in seven Canadian children — or 967,000 — still lives in a low-income household, according to Campaign 2000 in its annual report being released Tuesday, the 24th anniversary of the historic federal pledge.
In Ontario, child poverty rates mirror the national average, with about 371,000 children living in poor households, says the group’s provincial report card, which is also being released Tuesday.
Alarmingly, 38.2 per cent of children of single mothers in Ontario are living in poverty.
“As we approach 25 years since the promise to end child poverty in Canada, there’s a fork in the road,” said Laurel Rothman national co-ordinator of Campaign 2000, a coalition of labour and anti-poverty groups dedicated to holding politicians to account.
“Canadian leaders can choose to take action on the pathways out of poverty for children or they can choose not to act,” she warned.
The national and provincial reports are based on 2011 data, the latest available from Statistics Canada.
National child poverty numbers were down slightly from 2010 when 979,000 were living in poverty. But they are still higher than in 1989 when the House of Commons unanimously resolved to end child poverty by the millennium. At that time there were 912,000 children living in poverty, the report notes.
The group praises Queen’s Park for boosting its provincial child benefit and continuing to raise the minimum wage despite the 2008 global recession. As a result of those measures, child poverty in the province has declined by 9.2 per cent since then.
But the McGuinty government’s austerity budget of 2012 has put many of those gains at risk, said Anita Khanna of Ontario Campaign 2000.
“In order to stop poverty’s devastating impacts on our communities, we need a renewed all-party commitment to poverty reduction and eradication through investment,” the Ontario report says.
“Low income Ontario families need investments that will lift them out of poverty such as decent employment, improved child benefits, affordable housing options, livable social assistance rates and high quality, reliable child care services,” the report says.
Statistics Canada considers families to be living in low income when their income falls below 50 per cent of the median household income, after taxes. The so-called Low Income Measure (LIM) in 2011 for a single parent with one child was $28,185 after taxes. Campaign 2000 and Ontario have adopted the LIM to measure progress on poverty reduction.
Toronto single mother Ines Garcia, 48, has lived in poverty with her four children since Ottawa first vowed to end child poverty 25 years ago. She endured the welfare cuts of the provincial Tory government of the 1990s and benefited from modest improvements under the Liberals’ 2008 poverty reduction strategy which is credited for lifting about 47,000 children out of poverty.
But she feels no closer to escaping than when her first daughter was born in 1988. That daughter, now age 25 and a 17-year-old son, had been living with their father in Cambridge, Ont., until he died recently. They are now on their own, surviving on student loans, part-time jobs and whatever Garcia can give them.
The father of Garcia’s two younger children, ages 12 and 13, abandoned the family shortly after they were born.
“I’m grateful for the government help,” Garcia said. “It’s just that they make it so difficult to get ahead. Every little improvement here gets wiped out by money they take away somewhere else.”
Garcia is able to keep more of what she earns from part-time jobs as a sales clerk and school lunch monitor, thanks to provincial changes that allow her to keep the first $200 before triggering welfare clawbacks.
But if she earns too much money, the rent in her subsidized Regent Park apartment will go up and wipe out any benefit.
Federally, Campaign 2000 is calling on Ottawa to draft a national strategy to eliminate poverty, develop a long-term affordable housing plan and help build a national child-care system. It wants national child benefits for low-income families boosted from $3,654 to $5,400 annually per child and changes to personal taxes that reduce income inequality.
In Ontario, advocates want the province’s next five-year poverty reduction strategy to cut child poverty by 50 per cent. They are also calling for a $500 increase to the $1,310 Ontario Child Benefit by 2018, a $14 minimum wage and a $100-a-month rate hike for single people on welfare. Once these goals have been achieved, they should be indexed to inflation, group adds.