Child Poverty Stats a Call to National Action

It was, as Dr. Phil would put it, a defining moment.  It occurred for Ian Hill, a good friend of mine, as he drove by and saw kids splashing about in a puddle in the parking lot of a rundown motel. 

Despite cool weather, the kids were shoeless and dressed in ill-fitting, grungy clothes that had seen better days. For some unknown reason, he felt compelled to stop and talk. 

He learned that although the kids lived with their mother in one of the dismal motel rooms, they were alone because she was at work. They were without shoes because they had outgrown the ones they had and their mother couldn’t afford to replace them.

Moved by their story, he handed them all the cash he had with him and told the kids to give it to their mother when she got home from work. He continued on to his well-paid, high profile job, thinking he had done a good deed and that was the end of it.

But, it was not to be. Haunted by the images of those kids, fueled by memories of his own challenging childhood, he started to get angry. 

How could it be, given the resources in his city, that kids could be shoeless?  As the anger simmered so did his recognition that shoeless kids were a reflection on both himself and the community he loved.

As such, it was up to him to do something about it.

Shortly thereafter, my amazing friend Ian began calling every school in his hometown and asked each principal to estimate the number of kids who needed shoes.

Within two weeks he had raised enough money to provide $20,000 in shoes and gift certificates for every child in need.

So while he didn’t save the world, and of course couldn’t single handedly eliminate poverty given its inherent complexity, he did demonstrate more of what is needed if we are to address this growing issue – responsibility.

Poverty is everyone’s issue and everyone, including our governments, is needed and responsible for ending it.

In 1989, the House of Commons unanimously resolved to eliminate child poverty in Canada.

Eighteen years later - despite a 50% real increase in the size of our economy over the same period, the child poverty rate is exactly the same as it was in 1989.

One in 8 children in Canada - 788,000 - live in poverty when income is measured after income taxes. Before income taxes, 1 in 6 or 1.13 million children live in poverty.

And, although some think the answer to poverty is simply getting a job, 41% of children living in poverty already live in families with at least one income earner working full-time.

These are economic good times with successive federal budget surpluses. So why is it that parents working fulltime are unable to provide a living standard for their children beyond poverty? And, what can we do about it?

While not everyone has what it takes to do as my friend Ian did, we can all certainly do our part to support the many worthwhile non-profit organizations who are responding to poverty.

However, the just-released 2007 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Canada suggests we need to involve government if we really want to address the root causes.

Fundamentally, if we all agree, and I can’t believe we wouldn’t, that every parent working full-time should be assured a living standard beyond poverty, there are specific strategies our federal government can implement.

These include increasing the National Child Benefit Supplement to create a full child benefit for low income families of $5,100 per child per year, increasing federal work tax credits to $2,400 per year, and establishing a federal minimum wage of $10 per hour.

We also need to restore broad eligibility for Employment Insurance, invest major federal funding in social housing, early learning and child care, and establish a basic income system for persons with disabilities. Special attention and planning must also be paid to Aboriginal families who are at greatest risk.

So, in this season of giving, while we still need to donate the cash and gifts that will brighten the Christmas of children who live in poverty, there’s one more simple thing each of us can do.

Write your federal member of parliament and ask them to invest in a better future for our kids. We can do better.


Posted on 12-07-07

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