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Battling child poverty

It takes political will

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/5/2015 (838 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Why does Manitoba have such a high rate of children in care of the child welfare system, the highest rate of infant mortality and a youth crime severity index more than twice the Canadian average? There are a lot of reasons, but one of the prime drivers of all of these problems is child poverty.

In 2012, 83,990 Manitoba children lived in poverty (low income measure, after tax). This is almost three in 10 children (29 per cent), and is second only to Nunavut among Canadian provinces and territories.

Did the province do enough about this serious situation in the 2015 budget? Not nearly.

There are four essential actions that it could have taken, but chose not to.

First, it did not set targets and timelines for child poverty reduction. This means that the government is not ready to tie its political credibility to successfully reducing Manitoba's child poverty rate. It therefore has little incentive for a disciplined approach to investing in child poverty reduction.

If the government is willing to set greenhouse gas emission targets, why not child poverty reduction targets?

Second, Manitoba's income support programs must be improved. Children are being damaged every day by living in poverty, and this damage does not come cheap. It requires expenditures in the criminal justice, child welfare and health care systems. Why not make the investments up front to prevent these problems by lifting children out of poverty through effective income support programs?

One program that should be improved is the Manitoba child benefit, an income supplementation program for working poor families with children. Shamefully, it is worth less in actual purchasing power in 2015 than when Sterling Lyon introduced it as the child related income support program in 1980. The maximum benefit was raised only once in 35 years by $60 a year by the Doer administration. A good start would have been to increase the benefit so that it can purchase as much as it did in 1980.

Another program that needs improvement is employment and income assistance. There have been only minor improvements in these benefits since they were cut back in 1992 by the Filmon government. The Caledon Institute on Social Policy found that two children living with both parents on employment and income assistance were living in deep poverty, $15,233 below the poverty line (low income cut-offs after tax).

Improving the rental allowance is not enough to preserve these children from the physical and psychological damage of deep poverty. Surprisingly, in its budget documents the government shows benefit increases in nominal rather than constant dollars, vastly overstating the percentage increase in real purchasing power.

Third, the government did continue to expand child care spaces. However, child care must be made more accessible to poor children as an investment in improving their school readiness. The $1-a-day fee per child that welfare recipients must pay from their inadequate benefits should be eliminated as should the $2-a-day that working poor parents with low enough incomes to be receiving full subsidies must pay.

Fourth, the provincial government should demand that the federal government use its constitutional spending power to support the provinces in child poverty reduction. Provinces can do a lot, but they need federal help.

Reducing child poverty promises economic and social benefits for all Manitobans. Why isn't the Manitoba government prepared to set targets and make comprehensive investments to achieve them?


Sid Frankel is a professor of social work at the University of Manitoba.

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History

Updated on Monday, May 4, 2015 at 11:31 AM CDT: Corrects that in 2012, 83,900 Manitoba children lived in poverty

11:45 AM: Corrects that in 2012, 83,990 Manitoba children lived in poverty

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