Still no action to reduce child poverty, Campaign 2000's latest report says

  • November 24, 2011

TORONTO - After two decades of annual report cards on child and family poverty, Campaign 2000 is still waiting for the federal government to play a role in poverty reduction, said Laurel Rothman as she unveiled the 2011 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty Nov. 23.

"Don't let anybody tell you that it really is any better than in 1989 when the Parliament of Canada vowed to come up with an immediate plan," said Campaign 2000 director Rothman.

"We have weak or non-existent policies. We need action."

Campaign 2000 was established after Parliament voted unanimously in 1989 to end child poverty by the year 2000. The coalition has support from unions, social work agencies, think tanks and churches. Catholic bodies that contribute to Campaign 2000 include the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, the Sisters of St. Joseph of London and the Sisters of the Presentation.

A familiar picture of poor children in Canada is drawn in this year's report card: 323,385 children whose families rely on food banks; 639,000 children in low-income families; one in four aboriginal children in poverty; 750,000 children homeless, in danger of homelessness or in unstable housing; and one in 10 Canadian children who are poor.

This year's report is titled "Revisiting Family Security in Insecure Times" and highlights growing gaps between rich and poor and barriers to entering the middle class.

The absence of a federal policy to reduce poverty is handicapping Catholic agencies as they try to support and affirm families, said Michael Fullan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

"In those 20 years those kids we talked about then have all grown up. Now we're talking about a whole new generation of kids in Ontario and in Canada who are living in poverty," Fullan said. "That should frighten us."

Housing and quality, regulated child care are the two areas where the federal government could help the most, Fullan said.

"If you've got families and children living in poverty, (inadequate housing) is the common denominator."

Charitable giving can't make up for the absence of stable housing or child care that allows women to earn a living, said Fullan. As it stands the charitable dollars wind up trying to fix holes in government policy — problems caused by families under stress, trying to cope with housing and child care issues.

"If you've got a marriage problem, or if you've got anxiety or depression, if you've got a domestic violence problem, it's pretty hard to help people if their housing is just hanging by a fingernail," said Mark Creedon, Catholic Family Services of Peel-Dufferin executive director.

Inadequate housing puts families at risk by making it impossible to plan. The absence of quality child care can actually rob a child of any future at all, said Creedon. Kids left to rot in front of a television are different from kids who experience the structured and varied play good day cares offer.

Chances of getting the current government on side with a legislated poverty-reduction plan committing it to measurable targets and timelines are very slim, said Rothman, and Campaign 2000 is backing an NDP-sponsored poverty-reduction bill which has managed first reading in Parliament.

"The federal government is not listening, quite frankly," Rothman told a room full of social workers and activists at the launch. "We have no choice but to keep going."

Conservatives have argued job creation is the federal government's responsibility to the poor. But the idea that growing the economy will fix the problems poor Canadians face has not been born out by evidence, said Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives economist Armine Yalnizyan.

"After 30 years of the trickle down theory we're left with one big, fat joke. That is that trickle down would work if it weren't for all the sponges at the top," Yalnizyan said.

While Canada's economy has grown more than 100 per cent since 1989, poverty rates over the long term have remained unchanged, she said. Most of the growth has accrued to people making more than $100,000 per year. The portion of the Canadian population making between $30,000 and $100,000 is shrinking while more and more are making less than $30,000, she said.

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