by Anita Khanna
With the election of a new federal government, Canada must seize the opportunity for overdue transformation of its shameful poverty record. In a recent letter to Jean-Yves Duclos, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Prime Minister Trudeau committed the federal government to creating a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. This is a once-in-ageneration opportunity to end child and family poverty for good. Important commitments in the areas of housing, childcare, good jobs, and income security need both investment and action in order to turn the tide for families living in poverty.
In the meantime, the government will send a new, bolstered child benefit to families starting this July. The Canada Child Benefit (CCB) will deliver $6,400 per child each year for children up to age six and $5,400 per child each year for children ages 6-17. Both will be indexed to inflation. The CCB will go to families in low- and middle-income brackets. The amounts they receive will vary depending on their incomes—the more families earn, the lower the benefit.
Campaign 2000 has long argued that parents with dual roles as breadwinners and caregivers need the necessary supports to achieve a situation of decency and dignity for their families. Labour markets do not distinguish between workers who are parents and those who are not. So public policies that recognize the value of child-rearing and help to reduce poverty can make a significant difference. Campaign 2000 has called for a redesign of Canada’s child benefits. Now, we recognize parts of our proposal, first made in 2012, in the new CCB.
The year 2000 has come and gone and a generation has been raised in the shadow of the 1989 commitment. Despite Canada’s failure, the hunger for political action to end child poverty remains strong.
The government hopes to lift 315,000 children out of poverty with this policy. Meanwhile Campaign 2000 has called for a more ambitious goal: for Canada to reduce child poverty by 50 per cent over the next five years.
The CCB is a strong and effective social policy tool. Yet in order for it to meet either of these goals, it must be funded for the longterm. It also needs to be delivered to all low-income families in Canada, including those on social assistance. Since the payment of the child benefit is calculated based on each family’s income, it’s critical that the government treat all types of income equally. Families that receive some of their income from social assistance and income support programs must not have clawbacks or deductions taken off of their benefit payments.
We have written to Minister Duclos, asking him to enter into agreements with the provinces and territories to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Our provincial partners have also sent this message to social services ministers in their provinces. All children must be treated equally regardless of the source of their parents’ income.
In 1989, a resolution to end child and family poverty by the year 2000 was unanimously passed in the House of Commons. After that, our national coalition was formed and began calling for action plans and commitments from government. Campaign 2000 has been beating the drum for political action against child and family poverty since 1991.
The year 2000 has come and gone and a generation has been raised in the shadow of the 1989 commitment. Despite Canada’s failure, the hunger for political action to end child poverty remains strong. Our coalition works with partners across Canada, including Citizens for Public Justice, to push for supports for families.
We chronicle the impact of poverty on families faced with impossible choices between paying the rent, feeding the kids, or buying medication. We propose innovative social policies to support families through work, strong public services, and a secure social safety net. We hold the banner for change with low-income families and children at protests and on Parliament Hill.
CPJ and Canada Without Poverty are both active members of Campaign 2000’s Steering Committee. In turn, we have participated in the Dignity for All campaign’s summits, consultations, and the Chew on This! outreach event that happens each October.
This delivery of the CCB by the federal government is central to Campaign 2000. Its design and the direction given to the provinces is the first test of the new government’s resolve in keeping its goal of reducing child poverty in the face of political turbulence – whether from the provinces and territories, the looming deficit, or falling oil prices. Even if revenue decreases, children should have the first call on resources.
To keep this commitment to reduce child poverty, we must recognize that families on social assistance live in legislated poverty throughout Canada, with incomes well below any measure of poverty. With the CCB poised to be a game-changer for low-income families, the federal government must treat all families equally as it battles child poverty. It’s 2016 and it is time to end child poverty for good.
Anita Khanna is the National Coordinator of Campaign 2000: End Child and Family Poverty.