Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, speaking at Campaign 2000’s release of the 2017 Child Poverty Report Card on Parliament Hill, along with other anti-poverty group representatives. (CCN/D. Gyapong photo)
OTTAWA (CCN) — Campaign 2000, a coalition of more than 120 anti-poverty groups, on Nov. 21 called for the federal government to take leadership in addressing child and family poverty.
“With Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) on the horizon, government must commit to reverse the effects of decades of austerity budgeting and finally prioritize the prevention and eradication of poverty in Canada,” Anita Khanna, national co-ordinator of Campaign 2000 at a news conference in Ottawa.
“With 1.2 million children and families living in poverty, it’s clear that the social safety net is not adequately supporting families who face no choice but to piece together precarious work, struggle to afford quality housing and childcare and scramble to pack school lunches.”
Campaign 2000 annual 2017 Report Card shows 38 per cent of indigenous children on reserves live in poverty, as do 42 per cent of female lone-parent families. One in three children of recent immigrants lives in poverty; and income inequality is growing, the report says.
“This is a crisis for the 4.8 million Canadians who live below the poverty line, as well as for our entire society,” said Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, a member group of Campaign 2000, and a faith-based social justice think-tank. “Poverty, beyond the statistics, represents the lives and unique experiences of our neighbours — but with a common point: the loss of access to chances of realizing not only economic potential, but human potential.”
“This loss rests on individuals, but also weighs on all of society,” he said. “We see more economic inequality, more societal fracturing, lessening of social confidence and success at school, higher rates of criminalization, more health problems, even financial crises hit harder. This isn’t just a political issue — it is also a moral challenge.”
“We call upon the government and each political party to ensure the passage of a national anti-poverty plan based on human rights, not charity,” Gunn said. “It is necessary to include timetables and goals, focused on persons with a lived experience of poverty.”
Entitled “A poverty-free Canada requires federal leadership,” the 2017 report card offers a detailed set of recommendations for a national anti-poverty strategy with clear “targets and timelines,” “developed in consultation with provincial and territorial governments,” and funded in the next federal budget.
Khanna said the national strategy is necessary “to level the playing field” across the country. It also calls for consultation with First Nations leaders, and enhanced employment insurance to help with maternity leave and sick leave for those without disability insurance.
Among the recommendations: the creation of good jobs and the implementation of a $15 minimum wage across the country; enhancing the Canada Child Benefit; increasing the Working Income Tax Benefit; a universal child care program; enhanced medical coverage to include vision, pharmacare, rehabilitation services and dental care; programs to address housing and food insecurity and income inequality.
Linda Woods, co-chair of the United Church of Canada’s Bread Not Stones, a grassroots organization, told the news conference MPs and many senators would receive a “Rag Doll of Hope” to remind them of the importance of addressing child poverty.
We are asking politicians to close the funding gap to all First Nations children; to close tax havens at home and abroad to address income inequality, and to lead by example in encouraging the implementation of a $15 minimum wage across the country, Woods said.
“They are asked to keep our children in poverty on the front burner,” she said.
Though studies highlighted by Cardus Family show most families would prefer a parent or a close relative provide child care and institutional daycare is the last choice, Khanna said the call for a universal child care program is based on “world evidence” that affordable child care reduces child poverty.
Canada’s child poverty rate is 17 per cent, Khanna said, meaning almost one in five children lives in poverty. Denmark’s poverty rate is only five per cent, and it has affordable child care spaces. “Choice is a key component,” she said.