Twenty five years ago this month, our government unanimously made a promise to end child poverty by the year 2000. A promise that has been broken - today the number of children living in poverty in Canada is the equivalent to the population of Calgary.
In a country as wealthy as ours, one million children currently experience poverty and all that comes with it including poorer health outcomes, educational disadvantage, poor nutrition, and exclusion.
Most would agree that child poverty is an appalling Canadian reality. In fact, eight out of ten Canadians believe the federal government has a role to play in ending child poverty.
If we hope to make any progress on reducing poverty in Canada, a focus on kids is critical. Not only does Canada have human rights obligations specifically to children, but ending child poverty would have positive implications for the future of our society and the future of those children. Childhood is a particularly influential time: kids who grow up living in poverty are more likely to experience health problems throughout their lives, have lower incomes and be in trouble with the law. Ending child poverty will help to break the cycle of poverty.
But we can't stop there.
We must go further to reduce adult and family poverty as well, which would inherently help to alleviate the problem of child poverty. Children usually don't live in poverty alone: they have parents who struggle to make ends meet.
Yet children are often seen as more deserving of government assistance than adults as kids are not blamed for their situation. But we should be careful not to imply that adults in poverty have somehow made themselves and their children poor due to laziness or bad judgment instead of more systemic reasons. Adults, both parents and single individuals, are equally deserving of action to address poverty.
Child poverty is intertwined within a systemic problem that affects people of all ages. Poverty cuts right across Canada's social boundaries: anyone can be poor. Whether we focus on children, families or single individuals, most would agree that any real progress will require the availability of good jobs, high quality income security programs, affordable housing and accessible childcare.
What's really most incongruous about poverty in Canada is that we have the fiscal capacity to act on behalf of children, their families and all impoverished Canadians. With a budget surplus at hand, action on child poverty is long overdue.
Current initiatives calling for action include:
- Dignity for All, a campaign for a federal poverty elimination plan. A federal plan can have real effects on poverty and child poverty. From 2006-2011, provinces that implemented poverty reduction strategies with targets and timelines (Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick) made substantial impact in reducing child poverty.
- Keep The Promise, a coalition which uses the 25th anniversary of the unanimous House of Commons commitment as a platform to re-ignite engagement in achieving that 1989 promise. Their campaign is designed to engage kids in learning more about the impact of child poverty and give voice to their ideas and solutions to a problem that will have a profound impact on their future.
- Campaign 2000, a national initiative that began in 1991 out of concern about the lack of government progress in addressing child poverty. On November 24, they will release their annual report card noting the current state of child poverty in Canada and recommendations for future action.