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The Canadian Press

Report on child poverty urges $18B in spending

Canadian Press, May. 4, 2004, The Toronto Star and various other newspapers

OTTAWA - One million children across Canada are growing up poor despite years of Liberal promises to help, says a new study to be released tomorrow.

Campaign 2000, a coalition of groups fighting child poverty, says the rate has held steady at about 15 per cent.

It blames reduced access to employment insurance, lack of affordable housing, the high cost of child care and tax policies that penalize welfare families.

Real progress will cost Ottawa an extra $18 billion a year, it says.

It's not an outlandish request in an era of successive budget surpluses, says Laurel Rothman, national co-ordinator of the coalition.

The cash represents 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product, the value of home-grown goods and services. It would build a solid base of crucial social supports, says Pathways to Progress: Structural Solutions to Address Child Poverty.

Prime Minister Paul Martin must back up lofty goals with action, says Rothman.

"He said in 1998 that we should establish the elimination of child poverty as a national objective, not unlike we did with the deficit.''

Social Development Minister Liza Frulla agreed that more must be done.

"They're right,'' she said todaysday outside the Commons.

But she stressed that Ottawa spent about $8 billion last year for National Child Benefit payments to help working-poor families. The Liberals also committed $2 billion over six years to build more affordable housing and upgrade shelters, she said.

These efforts, like the $950-million federal push for a national child care program, can only work if provinces sign on, Frulla said.

The Campaign 2000 report calls for:

  • More generous employment insurance access.
  • Increased child tax benefits that aren't clawed back from welfare families.
  • A universal, national, child-care program.
  • Higher payments to the provinces specifically for social programs.
  • More cash for affordable housing.

The report measures hardship using Statistics Canada's low-income cut-offs. By those standards, a family of four is deemed to be in ``straitened circumstances'' if its before-tax income is less than $37,253 in a major city and less than $25,744 in a rural area.

Conservative groups like the Fraser Institute argue that such gauges overstate the extent of true poverty. The real child poverty rate is around 10 per cent if only the most basic housing, food, clothing and medical needs are considered, the institute reported in 2001.

But social advocates say an explosion in the use of food banks in the last 10 years shows how social spending cuts by Ottawa and the provinces have played out.