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Manitoba's Child Poverty Numbers A 'Chronic Nightmare': Report

11/24/2015 05:35 EST | Updated 11/24/2016 05:12 EST
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Child eating

WINNIPEG — A child poverty report card says an increasing number of children live in poverty in Canada, but no where is the problem more desperate than in Manitoba.

The report released Tuesday by social justice coalition Campaign 2000 says almost one in five children across the country lives below the poverty line. That number is one in three in Manitoba.

Sid Frankel, one of the report's authors and a social work professor at the University of Manitoba, said what began as a crisis in the early 1990s has become a "chronic nightmare." More children are slipping into poverty despite a provincial strategy introduced in 2009.

Their parents tend to have low-paying, precarious jobs and don't get enough tax breaks to lift them out of poverty, he said.

"Manitoba children are at a kind of double jeopardy."

The report says child poverty has increased since the House of Commons made the first of three pledges to eliminate it in 1989. The national poverty rate has jumped by 20 per cent since then, but has increased by 26 per cent in Manitoba.

The report also says 40 per cent of indigenous children in Canada live in poverty and one in seven users of homeless shelters is a child.

Poor kids often go hungry, live in inadequate housing and don't have school or sports supplies, Frankel said. Study after study has shown living in poverty affects health quality, he added.

"We think this is pretty serious."

The report suggests the Manitoba and federal governments should aim to cut child poverty rates in half within five years. Campaign 2000 is also calling on governments to provide more well-paying, steady jobs while increasing affordable housing.

Its report also calls for a national child-care program and an immediate boost in minimum wages across the country to $15.53 an hour.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said the report only looks at income and not how far that income can go.

"How much you pay for something in Brussels is quite different than how much you pay for something in Winnipeg,'' he said. "But whatever measure we have, we want people to be living less in poverty.''

The province is increasing rent-assist programs, building more affordable housing and has committed to increase its $11 minimum hourly wage every year, Selinger said.

The federal Liberals have pledged to do much of what is called for in the report, including changing employment insurance rules to make it easier to qualify for support, expanding parental leave programs and providing a higher child benefit to needy families.

They have also promised a national poverty reduction strategy and say they will invest in affordable housing and child care.

"Supporting families and ensuring every child gets the best possible start in life is a priority of this government,'' Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of families, children and social development, said in an emailed statement.

Anita Khanna, national co-ordinator for Campaign 2000, said the group is pleased the federal government appears interested in addressing the issue.

The group is also urging Ottawa to provide $500 million in one-time funding to provinces to create affordable child-care spaces or provide subsidies to low-income parents.

"It's the missing national social program,'' said child-care advocate Martha Friendly from the Toronto-based Childcare Resource and Research Unit. "You can't eradicate child poverty without real access to quality child care."

— With files from Jordan Press in Ottawa

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