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Groups push Liberals to boost child benefit to aggressively cut poverty rates

Jessica Wesley holds her two-month-old son Kenneth in her apartment in Toronto on Friday, March 3, 2017. A new study being released Tuesday takes a look at just how much it costs to raise children in Canada, and what it means for government efforts to provide meaningful family benefits and fight child poverty.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

A national coalition of anti-poverty groups is asking the Trudeau government to boost the basic amount it provides in child benefits in hopes of cutting child poverty rates in Canada in half by the end of the decade.

The coalition wants the government to change the rules so those earning less can keep more of the benefit, and to increase payments with the cost of living, retroactive to when the new benefit was first introduced last July.

The goal would be to reduce child poverty rates by 50 per cent by 2020, the group Campaign 2000 says in a written submission to the Trudeau government as part of federal consultations on a national anti-poverty strategy.


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Anita Khanna, the group’s national co-ordinator, also wants the government to consider more lucrative employment insurance benefits, including for new parents, and further expand job training programs.

Such measures, among others, would help to rework the social safety net to help more people climb out of poverty and contribute more to the economy, Khanna said in an interview.

“Any time spent in poverty in childhood is too long. It does have detrimental effects through the life cycle,” she said. “This is a real cornerstone piece for us and the government has hung a lot on the (Canada Child Benefit) as well.”

The government is spending roughly $23 billion on the benefit, billed as a key weapon in the fight against child poverty. The average family receives about $2,300 more per year compared to the tax credits and benefits it replaced, the Liberals say.

The parliamentary budget watchdog has warned that fewer families will qualify for the benefit unless its levels are tied to inflation, which would ensure its buying power — the so-called “real value” — doesn’t erode over time.

The government’s internal calculations show the child poverty rate this year would drop to between 11.7 and 13 per cent as defined by the low-income measure — less than half of the median national household income. That measure is used internationally to compare poverty rates between countries.

In absolute terms, that means 213,000 fewer children would be living in poverty than in 2013, or 199,000 fewer children based on 2014 data, says a November briefing note to Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Those impacts are below the estimates of almost 300,000 children the Liberals have touted using a different benchmark, the low-income cut-off.

“This is normal because the (low-income measure) is a measure of poverty relative to how the rest of the population is doing,” the briefing note says in explaining the difference.

“The (Canada Child Benefit) not only increases the income of low-income families, but also increases the median household income from which the (low-income measure) poverty threshold is established.”

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.

The actual impact of the benefit won’t be known until 2019 — the year of the next federal election — when official figures become available.

Campaign 2000’s report also urges the government to take a second look at eligibility requirements to ensure immigration status doesn’t act as a barrier to support. Permanent and temporary residents who have been in Canada for at least 18 months can receive the child benefit, but not so for some sponsored spouses.

“There’s no real logic to the current practice,” Khanna said.

“If the principle is that money should go to children who require it, there are some who are being arbitrarily denied it based on their parents status.”

— Follow @jpress on Twitter

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