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November 26, 2002

Child-poverty figures show slight decrease

From: Toronto Star, Canada - 26 Nov 2002

First decline in four years called encouraging Over 1.1 million children in Canada considered poor


A glimmer of hope has emerged on the child poverty front as the number of poor children in Canada dropped slightly for the first time in four years, according to the latest statistics.

In its annual report card, Campaign 2000, a national coalition of 85 organizations monitoring Parliament's 1989 resolution to eliminate child poverty, has noted a slight improvement.

This year's report — using the last available statistics from 2000 — shows the number of children living in poverty is 1 in 6, down from 1 in 5 a year earlier.

But the rate remains higher than it was 12 years ago, said Laurel Rothman, report card co-ordinator, when MPs voted for the ambitious goal to eliminate child poverty by the end of the century.

"It's a little hard to say let's get excited about 1 in 6, but we are encouraged," she said.

Rothman said with a child poverty rate of 16.5 per cent nationally, a robust economy can only do so much to help.

"The best the economy can do is bring the numbers down to about 15 per cent," she said.

After that, governments must intervene with programs to offer subsidized daycare and more money for parents to buy nutritious food and warm clothing for their children, she added.

The report points out more than 1.1 million children in Canada continue to live in poverty — 391,000 of them in Ontario.

Rothman said half of those children are in families where the parents are not on welfare, but are working in low-wage jobs that do not give them enough money for necessities.

The situation has become worse for two-parent families due to the high cost of living for people who juggle two or three part-time low-paying jobs.

"So clearly the cost of housing and the cost of quality child care enters centrally into that equation."

These groups use Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off figures to define poverty: For a couple with two children in a large urban centre, the low-income cut-off is about $30,000 a year; for a single parent with one child, it's $21,000.

Writer and social activist June Callwood told reporters yesterday that childhood poverty leaves scars that last a lifetime.

An emotional Callwood recalled going without food for three days as an 11-year-old during the Great Depression.

"I felt shut out, I had the feeling that I would never be on the inside," Callwood said. "That feeling has never left me."

Callwood accused the Conservative government in Ontario of robbing the poor with its decision not to let welfare recipients keep the federal child tax benefit, choosing instead to claw it back from their monthly cheques.

"Do other people in this country know that that happens and why do they not seem to care?" Callwood asked.

Beverley Halls, a single mother who is legally deaf, spent more than 20 years on social assistance before landing a job recently with the Daily Bread Food Bank.

"Poverty hurts," she said of her attempts to find work and leave the welfare rolls.

Halls said she was an active volunteer for years and worked on her language skills to help her overcome her disability.

But she still found the welfare cycle almost impossible to escape.

Various programs aimed at moving single mothers from welfare to work have failed, she said, because they are underfunded and do not give women the skills they need and the help to go on a job search, including bus fare.

Provincial Childrens Services Minister Brenda Elliott said she does not plan to revisit the policy of clawing back the child tax benefit or raising welfare rates.

"Welfare is truly transformed. Our numbers continue to drop, the success stories are all over of people who say they have a new lease on life and new skills and opportunities and I think that's the strategy that is best for continue on," she said. "It's working and I see no reason why we should change the tactic."

But NDP MPP Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie) said a few small measures, including a hike in welfare rates, letting single parents keep that federal tax credit and giving a cost-of-living increase to Ontarians on disability would rescue hundreds of thousands of children in the province from growing up poor.

"That would immediately put money into the hands of some very poor families and children so that we could begin to raise those statistics."

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