The child poverty rate decreased from 23 to 21 per cent during the recession from 2008 to 2011, pulling roughly 180,000 children out of poverty, UNICEF Canada says today in a new report.
David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada, said in other affluent countries, child poverty actually increased during the same period of time.
"I think that's really impressive. It's better than the majority of other countries did during the recession," Morley said in a telephone interview from Toronto. "It shows to me that when we put our mind to it as a society, we can make a difference in the lives of children."
The report by the UN Children's Fund is titled "Report Card 12: Children of the Recession" and it says the child poverty rate increased by an average of three percentage points across the 41 industrialized countries that were studied.
Morley said the report attributes the decrease in Canada to initiatives by both the federal and provincial governments, such as Ottawa's National Child Benefit supplement, which gives monthly payments and benefits to low-income families with children.
"(These initiatives) kept money in circulation ... money goes to poorer families, and that tends to be spent on children and then it kept money circulating in the economy as well," said Morley. "That kind of investment in children is so important."
But for Canada's most vulnerable children, conditions deteriorated, the report said. It said the child poverty gap, the difference between the median income of poor children and the poverty line, increased two percentage points.
"Poor children today are further away from average living conditions than poor children were at the start of the crisis," the report said. "Only six of 41 nations managed to reduce the depth of poverty among children."
Morley said the federal government should be preparing for possible impacts of a future recession. He said UNICEF is advocating for the appointment of a national commissioner for children.
"We feel that if you have a voice for children at Parliament, because children don't vote, it's a way for somebody to be keeping an eye out for what the impact of policies will be on children," said Morley.
"We did a good job as a society during the recession. Now we need to build on that."
Morley said UNICEF would also like to see the development of an emergency plan for child poverty during a recession.
"If we put in place an emergency plan, that will mean that there's an explicit policy that children will be given a priority," said Morley. "Let's, in good times, build up a reserve fund that can be used during hard times to protect family income and to protect children's services."
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