September 27, 2002
Raise the annual child tax benefit from the current maximum of $2,440 to $4,200 per child, available to all low, modest and middle-income families. This would help reduce our levels of child poverty by 50 per cent over the next five years.
These additional dollars in the hands of Canadian families with children are necessary to effectively mitigate the debilitating impact of low family income. Phase III of the government's plan called for the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) to increase to $4,000 for the first child – we are only asking that this phase be implemented immediately. To do this will not bring Canada anywhere near Scandinavia's low child poverty rate, but will set Canada at about the same level as Holland and France.
[ See background section below for more on child poverty.]
Improve the plight of the poorest children in Canada by prohibiting the clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement from families on social assistance.
The vast majority of families on welfare in Canada receive only the base CCTB benefit because most provincial and territorial governments claw back the NCB supplement from social assistance cheques. According to the National Council of Welfare, the current design of the CCTB system means that only one-third of poor families with children are net beneficiaries under the current system. Close to one million children in families on social assistance derive little support from Canada's premier child poverty program. At present, children in the poorest families are actually getting poorer.
Broaden the Early Childhood Development agreement to include meeting the needs of school-aged children in such areas as special education; recreation; health and safety.
While the CCSD was encouraged by the commitment of $2.2 billion to early childhood development in September 2000 – this is still a drop in the bucket in terms of ensuring that all Canadian children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. With recent provincial cutbacks in this area, federal intervention is all the more urgent.
Increase the basic tax exemption for low-income working families.
The Government has provided tax cuts to increase the disposable income of families. Nonetheless, 77% of the benefit of these tax breaks has gone to the wealthiest 8% of families. The Government needs to address this inequality and help low-income Canadians cover their basic needs.
Invest in quality early childhood education and child care services that are universal, inclusive and accessible.
With a few partial exceptions, the provinces have neglected the social investments which are needed to counter social exclusion, such as affordable child care for single parents trying to enter the work force. At present, there is regulated child care to serve only 1 in 10 children under the age of 12 years in Canada. Parents must be able to go to work assured that their children are in good hands.
Get back into the affordable housing business. Immediately increase the number of new affordable units produced to 20,000 annually and the number of refurbished units to 10,000 per year.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities reported in 2000 that Canada's urban centres lost a minimum of 13,000 rental units between 1995 and 1999: previously available rental housing was converted or demolished, and no new social housing was constructed. Not surprisingly, rents began to rise much faster than inflation.
In November 2001, the federal government agreed with the provincial and territorial ministers on a Framework for funding of affordable housing. The federal government committed to a total potential contribution of $680 million over five years - but based funding on the willingness of provinces to provide matching funds. In May 2002, the National Housing and Homelessness Network released a report card on the Framework. It gave the federal government a D-, for spending only a tiny fraction – less than one percent – of the potential funds. All provincial governments except Quebec (which got an A) received a failing grade.
Introduce a refundable disability credit.
There have been incremental improvements to the medical expense tax credit, the disability tax credit, the infirm dependant tax credit, the caregiver tax credit, and the child care expense deduction for parents of children with disabilities. However, these credits still fall far short of meeting the very high costs related to disabilities, and both are non-refundable and so are of value only to those with taxable incomes. The refundable tax credit would put money in the hands of those whose incomes are too low to benefit from the existing tax breaks.
Ensure support for Canada's non-profit community
A wide range of community level social services in Canada are not delivered directly by governments, but rather by publicly funded agencies with independent, voluntary boards. Ottawa used to help fund a huge range of not-for-profit community social services, from child care, to transition houses, to services for the mentally ill, to family and child services. While these services are still desperately needed, the funding has stopped.
The government must follow up on the extensive consultations of the Voluntary Sector Initiative to create an effective new funding framework for non-profit social services. The government must also find ways to draw on the knowledge and experience of this sector when creating or reviewing social programs.
Canada continues to have one of the highest rates of child poverty among the industrial nations: one in five children grows up in poverty. Canada also has one of the highest rates of youth incarceration in the Commonwealth countries.
In 1989, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion to end child poverty by the year 2000, but in the decade that followed the rate of child poverty rose from 15% to 18%.
It's not hard to see why this would have happened. The gap between rich and poor widened throughout the nineties. Between 1984 and 1999, the wealth of the top 20% of families rose by 43%. The net wealth of the "median" couple actually fell slightly. The median income of the bottom 20% of earners fell by 51%.
The National Children's Agenda emerged in 1999 as a positive new step in federal-provincial collaboration. There is some evidence that the National Child Benefit, in combination with an improving job market, has slightly reduced the extent and depth of child poverty. But children in the very poorest families have actually become poorer.
Research by the Canadian Council on Social Development, the Canadian Institute of Child Health, and others, shows that low income children are more likely to suffer from chronic illness and disability. They are also more likely to have lower functioning levels of vision, speech, mobility, dexterity, cognition, emotion and pain.