Healing Gaia

Christmas Wish List: End Child Poverty in Canada

Ending child poverty means ending poverty in Canada. To be effective, the entire family needs to live well enough above an established poverty line in order to be able to afford the necessities of life, have a cushion for emergencies and a few treats once

By Doreen Nicoll
Published December 14, 2015

It's the season for Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa! A time for family, friends, special foods, gifts, lights and celebrations. The time of year children wait for all year long. This is also a time when the divide between those who have and have not seems greatest.

Those who have, give to the food bank, mitten tree, coat and toy drives. We give to ease the burden of others, but we also give to ease our conscience. Unfortunately, these kind gestures do nothing to address either the year round issue of, nor the systemic causes of, poverty.

In November 2015, Campaign 2000 released its latest report on child and family poverty: Let's Do This, Let's End child Poverty for Good. To say that Canada is not making strides to end child poverty is an understatement of epic proportions.

In 1989, parliament unanimously agreed to end child poverty by the year 2000 and poverty for all Canadians by 2009. At that time 15.8 percent of Canadian children lived in poverty. By the year 2000, the rate of child poverty had increased to 22.3 percent. In 2013, child poverty dropped slightly to 19 percent, but 1.34 million children, or one in five children, continued to live in poverty. One in two Indigenous children currently lives in poverty.

Children are the group at greatest risk of living in poverty in Canada. UNICEF ranks Canada 17 out of 29 nations when it comes to child well-being. This abysmal ranking shows just how little we, as a nation, value our children and how unwilling we are to invest in our own future.

Families trying to live on minimum wage, and those receiving social assistance or Employment Insurance (EI) benefits made extremely limited gains in the past 26 years. Any financial increases are attributable to the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) and National Child Benefit Supplement (NCBS) rather than increases to minimum wage rates or social assistance payments to parents.

Canada is without an official income poverty threshold. Using Statistics Canada 2015 figures for Low Income Measure-After Tax (LIM-AT) we can compare the poverty line for various individuals and families with what they would receive on social assistance living in Ontario:

Social Assistance in Ontario
Category Amount
Single adult, able to work $17,371
Ontario ODSP annual income (2013) $13,032; poverty gap $4,339
Lone parent with one child >13 $24,319
Ontario ODSP annual income (2013) $19,248; poverty gap $5,071
Lone parent with two children >13 $29531
Ontario ODSP annual income (2013) $21,216; poverty gap $8,315
Couple with no children; both on ODSP $24,319
Ontario ODSP annual income (2013) $23,568; poverty gap $751
Couple with one child >13; both on ODSP $29,531
Ontario ODSP annual income (2013) $25,536; poverty gap $3,995
Couple with two children >13; both on ODSP $34,742
Ontario ODSP annual income (2013) $27,588; poverty gap $7,154

Ideally, social assistance income should be at least 10 percent above the poverty line, but clearly that's not the case in Ontario nor any other province or territory.

Government transfers including the HST/GST credit, CCTB, the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), and EI help keep working families from extreme poverty. An additional 795,000 children would be living in poverty if not for these transfer payments.

37 percent of children living in poverty have one parent who works full-time, full-year. Close to a million employed Canadians have two or more jobs. Over two million can find only temporary employment. Youth unemployment is at 13.2 percent with low-skilled, precarious, temporary jobs making up 30.8 percent of all youth employment.

As employment becomes increasingly low wage, short-term contract, precarious positions, it's impossible to make a decent living that will cover rent, child care, transportation, food, and the costs of living.

Over 730,000 renter households have such low incomes that they spend over 50 percent of their income on rent putting them at risk of becoming homeless. Each year 235,000 people find themselves homeless. One in seven people using shelters in Canada are children.

Statistics Canada recorded real median after-tax income growth from 1982 to 2013 and found that the:

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Canada has a long way to go in order to reduce income inequality. Non-standard workers in Canada have the highest rate of poverty in the OECD; 35 percent compared to an average 22 percent for OECD countries. Canada has one of the largest gender pay gaps with women earning 19 percent less than men in Canada versus an average 15 percent in OECD countries. In Ontario the gender pay gap averages 30 percent.

Recently announced changes to federal income tax rates will help 25 percent of tax payers all of whom fall within the $45,000 to $90,000 income bracket. These middle income earners will keep an additional $50 to $670 annually. Unfortunately, these changes do nothing to help those most in need, Canadians with annual incomes below $45,000.

Food insecurity is reality for 12.5 percent of households which includes approximately one million children. Childhood food insecurity has been linked to obesity, anemia, diabetes, chronic stress, depression and other physical and mental health issues.

Food bank use is 26 percent higher than in 2008 when the great recession began. 16 percent of those using the food bank earn the majority of their income from employment. Let's be honest, it's virtually impossible to have a healthy diet when you rely on food banks that are primarily stocked with prepackaged and canned goods as opposed to basic ingredients, fresh fruits and vegetables. This in itself is a cause for concern because poor nutrition so often leads to developmental as well as health issues in children.

Ending child poverty means ending poverty in Canada. To be effective, the entire family needs to live well enough above an established poverty line in order to be able to afford the necessities of life, have a cushion for emergencies and a few treats once in a while.

Implementing these suggestions will not only end poverty, but create a more equitable Canada:

Write, email, text, tweet, Facebook or send a holiday greeting to your government representatives and tell them you want to end poverty in Canada for good. Include the 17 solutions and ask them how many items we'll be able to strike off this wish list next holiday season.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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By Multiculturalist (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2015 at 15:35:32

"Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa!"

I think that you mean Kwanzaa!, Chanukah, and christmas, you insensitive, Eurocentrist.

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By Author (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2015 at 21:21:00

I think that you'll find Chanukah was Dec. 6 to 14, then comes Christmas on December 25, followed closely by Kwanzaa on December 26th. Easy mistake to make. Glad I could be of help Multiculturalist.

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