Lack of action on child poverty a 'national disgrace'

  • November 27, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - The House of Commons passed a resolution Nov. 24 to eliminate child poverty, calling on the federal government to develop “an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all.”

The motion — passed by the unanimous consent of the House leaders of the political parties — marked the 20th anniversary of the House’s unanimous resolution in 1989 to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.

Yet the annual report card by Campaign 2000, a coalition of anti-poverty and faith organizations, showed little progress has been made over the past 20 years. The poverty level has dropped about two per cent in 20 years in a time of unprecedented prosperity, it said.

“If Canada were a student, she would be on the verge of dropping out,” said Campaign 2000 national co-ordinator Laurel Rothman at a Nov. 24 news conference. “Progress over 20 years is extremely slight.”

Almost one in 10 children still live in poverty; that’s 637,000 people, roughly the population of Winnipeg, Rothman said.

She noted a recent report from food bank operators shows that children make up 30 per cent of food bank use while comprising only 20 per cent of the population.

“Hunger is a real problem in our country.”

Campaign 2000 representative Sid Frankel called on the federal government to take leadership by setting a target to reduce poverty through increasing the child benefit from $3,400 to $5,400, investing in affordable housing, raising the minimum wage to $11 and instituting a national child care and early learning program.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said child poverty among First Nations young people has grown worse over the last 20 years. The report shows one in three children of aboriginal parents live in poverty.

Addressing poverty would “breathe life into the spirit of the apology” for Indian Residential Schools, he said. He pointed out that there is a $2,000 disparity in the per person expenditure on education for native and non-native school children.

Former NDP Leader and retired MP Ed Broadbent, who spearheaded the original resolution 20 years ago, said Canada could have achieved the virtual abolition of poverty.

“The history is one of national disgrace,” he said.

He said the failure of federal leadership began in the 1990s and noted that average incomes of both the middle class and the poor have remained relatively static. The only group that has fared well is the wealthy and they need to be taxed more, he said.

Broadbent also called for stimulus funds to be redirected into affordable housing and programs that directly help the poor. While journalists raised questions about mounting deficits, the Campaign 2000 representatives said Canada’s debt to GDP ratio is still relatively low.

Rothman stressed the role civil society groups play in addressing the needs of Canada’s poor, noting how Campaign 2000 is a coalition of anti-poverty and faith-based groups. 

“The only person who is missing around the table is the federal government,” she said.

Campaign 2000 represents about 50 national organizations, including the Canadian Council of Churches, KAIROS and the Catholic Health Association of Canada, plus 60 provincial and community partners across Canada.

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