The focus on showing child poverty data by federal electoral riding accomplishes two objectives:
- It highlights that children are exposed to the hardships of poverty in every corner of the country, dispelling the myth that more affluent neighbourhoods are immune to the problem; they’re not. Significant child poverty exists in every one of Canada’s 338 ridings.
- It brings to light the disparities that exist in ridings home to both extreme wealth and deep poverty. One such example is the riding of Toronto Centre, home to the upscale Bay Street corridor as well as large numbers of racialized people and recent immigrants. Four out of ten (40%) children live in poverty in Toronto Centre.
The report observes that persistent discrimination and systemic inequities, not bad luck or personal choice, lead to poverty for many individuals. The ridings with the highest child poverty rates have the highest unemployment and lowest labour market participation rates. They also have the highest proportion of renters and people spending more than 30% of their income on housing and are home to the highest proportion of recent immigrants, racialized and Indigenous people and predominantly female-led lone parent families.
We know that children do some of their most important development in the first five years of their life. This means that if a child does not have strong supports for development in place during early childhood, they will likely struggle throughout their education, which could effect the entire outcome of their lives. So bold action is required.
The Need for Federal Leadership to End Child Poverty
Like Tamarack, Campaign 2000 has been advocating for many years for the establishment of a robust federal Poverty Reduction Strategy. There is broad consensus across the Vibrant Communities’ – Cities Reducing Poverty (CRP) network on what needs to be included in a comprehensive federal strategy: improved policy measures relating to the national child benefit, social housing, child care, income and labour market supports and community services, as well as meaningful investments that would reach the frontline delivery agents tackling poverty in communities across Canada.
Child Poverty Focus Within Vibrant Communities – Cities Reducing Poverty
CRP member London Child and Youth Network (CYN) has been focusing on reducing child poverty since its inception in 2008. Motivated by the alarming statistic that 1 in 5 London children will experience poverty during their childhood, the CYN aims to increase literacy, promote healthy eating and physical fitness for kids, and create a family-centred system that makes it easy for children, youth and families to access social services. CYN’s recent successes include the Food Families program, in which a group of neighbourhood families form a network to support and mentor one another around purchasing, growing, sharing, learning, and celebrating food. Data shows 95% of Food Families participants saved money on their monthly grocery bill and 71% of participants reduced the number of times they accessed emergency food sources. In addition, the CYN has worked hard to increase the number of licensed childcare spaces in London, which resulted in 534 additional spaces made available in 2017 plus 176 more spaces in 2018/2019.
In both Halton and St. John’s, NL, local poverty roundtables are promoting and assisting eligible families to apply for the Canada Learning Bond – a Government of Canada program that contributes up to $2,000 to a Registered Education Savings Plan (R.E.S.P.) to help children from low-income families attend post-secondary education. Overcoming the hurdles to accessing this financial assistance holds promise as one lever for improving outcomes for children facing poverty, as students with even a small amount of savings are more likely to pursue post-secondary education and graduate, leading to greater employment opportunities as adults.
And the focus on reducing child poverty doesn’t end there, as other CRP members in Hamilton, Saint John, NB and Cape Breton are also tackling the complex issue of poverty with an emphasis on childhood literacy, school readiness, health and wellness and ending generational poverty.
It’s tough to fathom that child poverty in Canada in 2018 remains as pervasive as this latest report shows. Campaign 2000 reminds us how integral the role of government is in improving outcomes for children living in poverty. They call for the federal strategy to “harness the political will, dedication and targeted investments required so no child or family lives in poverty in any corner of Canada.” This is something all of us working in the field of poverty reduction are keenly awaiting in the coming weeks.