Three children sit in the grass. Credit: Charlein Gracia / Unsplash

Canada has been failing children living in impoverished conditions across the country for decades. At its current rate, childhood poverty won’t be eradicated in Canada until the 2070s.

That finding comes from a recently published report from Campaign 2000 titled No One Left Behind: Strategies for an Inclusive Recovery, released on Nov. 24.

The report concluded Canada has over 1.3 million children living in poverty, making up nearly one in five children. Between 2018 and 2019, just 24,170 children were lifted out of poverty, representing less than one per cent of Canada’s impoverished youth.

An even starker finding was the child poverty rate is higher for children under the age of six.

Leila Sarangi has spent nearly three years as the National Director of Campaign 2000, and co-authored the report.

Sarangi believes while it’s good the federal and provincial governments are partnering up to create $10 per day childcare, that average is still out of reach for Canada’s most impoverished families. Instead of an average of $10 per day, Campaign 2000 believes Canada’s childcare needs to be maxed out at $10 per day.

The federal government first committed to ending child poverty in Canada in November 1989, with an all-party resolution submitted by retiring long-time NDP leader Ed Broadbent setting a target date of 2000. Two years later, Campaign 2000, a national public education campaign, debuted after seeing a lack of progress on the government’s part.

“Campaign 2000 has consistently stated that child poverty is not inevitable, but that it is a result of choices,” the organization’s website reads. “Federal politicians pledged to end child poverty in 1989, 2009 and 2015; but it continues to deprive over 1.34 million children of their only childhood.”

The Canada Child Benefit began in 2016, creating what Sarangi called a pretty significant drop in the rate of child poverty in the country. That drop didn’t last long, though.

“The last few years, we’ve seen a really staggering flatline because there has not been any additional investments into the base amount of that benefit,” Sarangi said, explaining that the CCB is indexed to inflation.

The country’s maximum Canada Child Benefit in 2019 was only $6,639 (or $553.25 per month) for each child under the age of six. For children between the ages of six and seventeen, that number was even less – $5,602 (or $466.83).

While the fight to eradicate childhood poverty is moving at such a slow rate, the report found that the depth of poverty for families increased in 2019 for the first time since 2012.

According to the report, Nunavut has the highest child poverty rate in Canada at 34 per cent, or just over one in three children. Manitoba is a close second with 28.4 per cent, something New Democratic MP Leah Gazan of Winnipeg Centre hoped to change with an April 2021 resolution to transition the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) to a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income (GLBI).

“We need to start talking about the high costs of poverty,” Gazan said in an interview with rabble.ca, pointing out that Canada gives billions to big oil, while families are left struggling to make ends meet.

“We have to stop punishing families for being poor,” Gazan said. “Poverty is certainly not a testament to somebody being able to look after their kids or not. It’s a testament about society and how society has failed individuals and families, resulting in families not being able to be together.”

With the latest Census data from 2016, Sarangi noted that child poverty rates disproportionately impact racialized communities. For example, Indigenous children living on reserve face a child poverty rate of 53 per cent, more than one in two children. White children, in contrast, face the lowest child poverty rates in the country (12 per cent).

“A few of the areas that we look at [in our report card are] income inequality, decent work, housing, childcare as part of our public services, and health care,” Sarangi said, finding lone parents, racialized women, and parents of children with a disability face significantly higher wage gaps due to precarious work.

Sarangi noted the latest report talked a lot about rental arrears and the need for a federal program to address them, as precarious housing disproportionately affects renters.

While the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t factor into the report’s findings, Sarangi noted food insecurity has become a major concern, with 4.4 million people in Canada lacking proper access to nutrition.

Nova Scotia has made the least progress of any province

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS) released a report card on Child and Family Poverty in the province last month. The report relies on data from 2019, the most recent year of reported figures.

The report found Nova Scotia has made the least progress of any province when it comes to eradicating childhood poverty, improving by just 0.1 per cent between 1989 and 2019. The province also ranks the highest in Atlantic Canada for child poverty rates, and the third-highest in Canada.

The report issued 17 recommendations to the provincial government to eradicate poverty provincewide. Among those recommendations are increasing the minimum wage to $15 in 2022 on the path to a livable wage, provide workers at least ten paid sick days to Canadians, reform the province’s Human Rights Commission, and address the root cause of women’s higher poverty rates.

Christine Saulnier, director at the CCPA-NS and former federal NDP candidate, says the way the province approaches child poverty is unfair.

Two practices Saulnier calls unfair continue to penalize impoverished families in the province. Part of the discrimination comes from the practice of removing the Canada Child Benefit when a child is brought into temporary care.

Another way to limit children in custody is to remove the language “failure to provide to the child adequate food, clothing, or shelter” from the Children and Family Services Act. Removing this language, Saulnier said, will not only decrease caseloads but also stop the false justification of poverty as neglect.

“They won’t be able to afford their housing, their food, all of their basic essentials,” Saulnier explained as something that’s not only disruptive, but also further jeopardizes the opportunity for the family’s reunification.

Saulnier calls poverty “policy-created” and believes governments are both complicit and responsible for “creating the conditions in which families find themselves struggling to provide for their children.”

“Oftentimes, the families who are living in poverty are being supported directly by governments who have made the decision to not provide enough income support to lift families out of poverty,” Saulnier said.

Image: Gilad Cohen

Stephen Wentzell

Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred...