Child poverty in Canada is our failure

One of the most obvious issues that people in Canada can agree on is that children are precious and should have the support and care needed to thrive. This does not only apply to our children, but all children. There should not be a child in Canada going to bed hungry, lacking basic needs, health care, and education. We all agree, right?

So, it baffles the mind that 29 years after all federal parties unanimously supported a resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000, Canada’s child poverty rate is 19.6 per cent. That means there are over 1.4 million children living in poverty.

On Parliament Hill on Tuesday, November 20, National Child Day was marked by an All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus event co-sponsored by Campaign 2000, Oxfam Canada, Child Care Now, and the Canadian Federation of University Women, and involved young students from the Ottawa-Catholic School Board. It was an opportunity to shine a light on child poverty in Canada in the very place where the commitment was made to end it 29 years ago.

Campaign 2000’s Executive Director, Anita Khanna, and Sid Frankel from the University of Manitoba presented the Campaign 2000 annual report card on child and family poverty in Canada, titled Bold Ambitions for Child and Family Poverty Eradication. The report highlights the disturbingly high rates of poverty for children in Canada, particularly Indigenous, racialized, and recent immigrants, along with pointing out where the federal government’s new poverty reduction strategy needs to be strengthened to respond to the urgency of this reality.

Anita Khanna stated that child and family poverty in Canada are about social inequity, not personal choices. Children and families face barriers every step of the way given the lack of safe and affordable housing, secure jobs with fair wages, and access to adequate education and health care. These challenges multiply for those facing discrimination due to race, gender, disability, and so on.

The new federal poverty strategy starts a process of setting targets and timelines for poverty reduction and providing some tools to monitor the process. However, much more is needed, particularly more ambition.

For Campaign 2000, real action to address child poverty should be aiming at a reduction by 50 per cent within the next 5 years, not the next 15 years. As well, there are more programs and investments needed to meet more ambitious goals.

One major missing piece in the poverty strategy is a commitment to universal, high-quality childcare. This need was highlighted by a young teen mother who shared her story. She talked about the barriers she faced, having been homeless and pregnant, and then trying to finish high school and care for her child. She was fortunate to be able to attend a special school in Ottawa for single, teen mothers that provides child care. But, as she stated, getting a childcare spot should not be like winning the lottery. There needs to be more fairness, and justice, in how we support children and families.

CPJ and the Dignity for All campaign have called for a strengthened poverty reduction strategy, most recently in Dignity for All’s annual Chew on This! activities.

As we head toward 30 years of our failed promise to end child poverty in Canada, it is essential that the federal government is pushed to strengthen its poverty strategy, with further programs and investments, and more ambition. We cannot fail another generation of children. 

Darlene O'Leary is CPJ's Socio-Economic Policy Analyst.

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