The sad re­al­ity of child poverty

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey, [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

Well, it could al­ways be worse, but the most re­cent re­port on the eco­nomic plight of our chil­dren is cause for con­cern, and shame. In Stor­mont-Dun­das-South Glen­garry, 19.9 per cent of chil­dren 17 and un­der live in poverty, while in Glen­garry-Prescot­tRus­sell, 10.1 per cent of chil­dren live in low-in­come house­holds.

The fig­ures were re­leased by Cam­paign 2000, a non-par­ti­san na­tional net­work of 120 or­ga­ni­za­tions com­mit­ted to work­ing to end child and fam­ily poverty.

Over 1.2 mil­lion Cana­dian chil­dren, 17.4 per cent, live in poverty. There are sev­eral gauges for “poor.” Ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, “low in­come cut-offs” are in­come thresh­olds be­low which a fam­ily will de­vote a larger share of its in­come on the ne­ces­si­ties of food, shel­ter and cloth­ing than the av­er­age fam­ily. A fam­ily is con­sid­ered low in­come if it spends 20 per­cent­age points more of its in­come on these ne­ces­si­ties than the av­er­age fam­ily. You are con­sid­ered poor if your in­come is less than half of the me­dian in­come.

The fed­eral rid­ing with the high­est child poverty rate is Churchill-Kee­wati­nook Aski, Man­i­toba. Nearly two-thirds (64.2%) of chil­dren live in poverty in this north­ern rid­ing, home to many First Na­tions. Four out of ten chil­dren in Toronto Cen­tre live in poverty

“Some might ar­gue that the Canada Child Ben­e­fit (CCB), in­tro­duced in July 2016 might have solved Canada’s child poverty prob­lem,” notes Cam­paign 2000. “But the most re­cent data from the Cana­dian In­come Survey show only a 1.2 per­cent­age point de­crease in child poverty in 2016 com­pared to 2015. There is still clearly a lot of work to do.”

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s name gives an in­di­ca­tion of how much re­mains to be ac­com­plished.

In 1989, the House of Com­mons unan­i­mously passed a mo­tion to elim­i­nate child poverty by the year 2000. Cam­paign 2000 be­gan in 1991 out of con­cern about the lack of gov­ern­ment progress.

“Child and fam­ily poverty knows no bound­aries in Canada: it is a re­al­ity in ev­ery sin­gle rid­ing. Poverty means there are too many chil­dren suf­fer­ing hunger, ill health and stress be­yond their years in com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try,” says Anita Khanna, Cam­paign 2000’s Na­tional Co­or­di­na­tor. “Given Canada’s wealth, no child should go to bed hun­gry. No par­ent should be forced to choose be­tween pay­ing rent and buy­ing med­i­ca­tion or miss out on work or train­ing for lack of qual­ity af­ford­able child­care. With ev­ery rid­ing af­fected by poverty, ev­ery rid­ing will ben­e­fit from a strong fed­eral strat­egy.”

The re­port calls for another leg­is­lated com­mit­ment to re­duce poverty to be passed be­fore the 2019 elec­tion.

“With ev­ery sin­gle fed­eral rid­ing in Canada home to sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of chil­dren and fam­i­lies in poverty, all com­mu­ni­ties, all Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment and all po­lit­i­cal par­ties have a stake in the erad­i­ca­tion of poverty in Canada,” Ms. Khanna says. “The long awaited and his­toric Poverty Re­duc­tion Strat­egy must fi­nally har­ness the po­lit­i­cal will, ded­i­ca­tion and tar­geted in­vest­ments re­quired to en­sure no child or fam­ily lives in poverty in any cor­ner of Canada. Af­ter decades of wait­ing for fed­eral ac­tion, the first Poverty Re­duc­tion Strat­egy must en­sure Canada stops only tal­ly­ing the num­ber of chil­dren in poverty and starts to num­ber poverty’s days in­stead.” The poverty num­bers are not sur­pris­ing. North Glen­gar­ri­ans earn less than the re­gional and provin­cial av­er­ages, and al­most 17 per cent of town­ship res­i­dents are try­ing to get by on low in­comes, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada data The News pub­lished last year.

But the low in­come rate was lower -- 10.8 per cent -- in South Glen­garry

Based on 2015 fig­ures, the av­er­age in­come in North Glen­garry was $30,792, be­low the provin­cial av­er­age of $33,539. In South Glen­garry, the av­er­age in­di­vid­ual earned $36,092.

When it came to house­holds, the av­er­age in­come in North Glen­garry was $59,456, mak­ing it the low­est in Stor­mont-Dun­das-Glen­garry, where the me­dian was $59,526. But in South Glen­garry the av­er­age was $76,702. At the low end of the scale were Cornwall ($46,564) and the Mo­hawk Na­tion at Akwesasne ($27,794). The provin­cial av­er­age per house­hold was $74,287.

If the new poverty re­duc­tion strat­egy is to work, a con­certed ef­fort is re­quired. Cam­paign 2000 stresses the need for col­lab­o­ra­tion of all lev­els of gov­ern­ment, pri­vate and non-profit sec­tors. Here are some more de­press­ing facts. Novem­ber 24, 2009, MPs passed a res­o­lu­tion to “de­velop an im­me­di­ate plan to end poverty for all in Canada,” while mark­ing the 20th an­niver­sary of the 1989 res­o­lu­tion to elim­i­nate child poverty.

Fe­bru­ary 4, 2015, Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment again voted to elim­i­nate child poverty in Canada.

And here we are in 2018, await­ing another pledge by politi­cians to take some concrete ac­tion.

But this is a huge is­sue. The av­er­age per­son can do lit­tle to ef­fect change.

You’re right. How­ever, that does not stop the Cam­paign 2000 peo­ple from try­ing to shake the masses out of their lethargy.

“Ev­ery per­son in Canada has the right and the re­spon­si­bil­ity to speak up and speak out against poverty be­cause it af­fects us all,” the or­ga­ni­za­tion states.

We can­not turn a blind eye to an is­sue that af­fects so many peo­ple so pro­foundly.

Yet, this is a topic that is rarely dis­cussed in any so­cial or po­lit­i­cal con­text.

Let’s say you are spark­ing up the bar­be­cue or en­joy­ing a cold bev­er­age at the end of a long, hard day at work. Chances are your first thoughts are not go­ing to be eco­nomic in­equal­ity and the un­fair distri­bu­tion of wealth.

We are our brother’s keeper, but this is a de­press­ing, com­plex sub­ject. And it’s not all about money.

The poverty line di­vides. Poverty brings iso­la­tion, stigma, a def­i­ni­tion of lay­ers.

Don’t tell poor peo­ple that we do not have a class sys­tem, when they are look­ing up at those who are in a “higher snack bracket.” Those who do not ex­pe­ri­ence “in­come in­se­cu­rity” move in “good” cir­cles, live in “bet­ter parts of town,” eat just a lit­tle bet­ter than the less for­tu­nate.

Large sums of money have been and con­tinue to be spent on study­ing, and os­ten­si­bly help­ing, the poor.

We are all fa­mil­iar with the “vi­cious cir­cle of poverty.” The com­mon wis­dom is that poverty, once started, is likely to con­tinue un­less there is out­side in­ter­ven­tion. The cy­cle of poverty has been de­fined as a phe­nom­e­non where poor fam­i­lies be­come trapped in poverty for at least three gen­er­a­tions.

The sit­u­a­tion for the poor will not likely im­prove un­der On­tario’s new Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, whose pledges have in­cluded mak­ing life more af­ford­able for On­tar­i­ans and scrap­ping plans to in­crease the min­i­mum wage. Yes, we will must give the Tories a chance to right the wrongs of the Lib­er­als.

Mean­while, as politi­cians en­gage in fin­ger-point­ing and chest-thump­ing, that goal set way back in 1989, the one about poor chil­dren, will con­tinue to be as elu­sive as ever.

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