Federal Poverty Reduction Strategy Consultation, June 2017
Submission to Minister of Families, Children and Social Development
By First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
First Call is a non-partisan, cross-sectoral coalition of 101 provincial and regional organizations who share a commitment to putting children and youth first in British Columbia through public education, community mobilization and public policy advocacy. Our membership list is attached. We promote the importance of prevention and supporting healthy child development from pre-conception to safe passage into adulthood, because this is both the right thing and the smart thing for any society to do.
We use a frame we call the 4 Keys to Success for Children and Youth to guide our work. Based on our understanding of the social determinants of health, children and youth need:
- A strong commitment to early childhood development
- Support in transitions from childhood to youth and adulthood
- Increased economic equality
- Safe and caring communities
Empirical research, both Canadian and international, tells us about how children’s brains develop, and how crucial their early years’ experiences are to their later chances of becoming successful contributing members of our communities. There is ample evidence that socioeconomic position is the most important determinant of health. Children who are raised in poverty are less healthy and at greater risk of developing chronic diseases during their life course. More recent evidence shows that this impact lasts a lifetime, even when that child grows up and escapes the cycle of poverty.
We also draw government’s attention to the commitments Canada made in 1990 in signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In doing so, we agreed to a broad framework of children’s rights to special protections, education, health, child care and family supports.
It is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that the best interests of children and youth are a primary consideration when making decisions that affect them. Of course, this applies to poverty reduction strategies and budget decisions, too.
First Call is a part of the national network Campaign 2000 to End Child and Family Poverty. The recommendations in this submission reflect Campaign 2000’s submission in large measure, as well as the experience and of our coalition member organizations here in BC.
WHAT ARE OUR RESPONSIBILITIES TO CHILDREN AND YOUTH?
Aside from moral and ethical imperatives that most Canadians share, we have made some more formal principled commitments our children.
For example, Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. That means that we agreed, in 1990, to a broad framework of children’s rights to special protections, education, health, child care and family supports, and to have their best interests taken into account in all matters affecting them. Of course this applies to poverty reduction strategies and budget decisions too.
Canada has also signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Additionally, both federal and provincial governments have promised to act on the Calls to Action contained in the 2015 Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Many of the TRC recommendations will help reduce Indigenous Peoples’ poverty and resulting health inequities. Given the extreme overrepresentation of Indigenous children in national poverty statistics, and Indigenous Peoples’ continuing experience of colonialism, racism, discrimination, violence and neglect, government action on these commitments and promises is an urgent priority and should be clearly represented in the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy.
As Campaign 2000’s submission notes, “Canada has no ‘official’ poverty line; instead we have three measures of low income. The lack of an official, national measure of low income causes debate and confusion about the prevalence and nature of poverty in Canada, with significant impact on public policy. The CPRS [Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy] can put an end to this debate by choosing an official, lead poverty measure. The official measure should meet the tests of credibility, transparency, relevance, clarity and consistency. Philosophically, a lead measure needs to be selected to establish a pan- Canadian standard below which no one should fall.”
First Call endorses Campaign 2000’s recommendations to:
1) Use the Low-Income Measure-After Tax (LIM-AT) as Canada’s official measure of progress or lack thereof for the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. This should be the measure used to judge whether targets are met. It is important to have a measure that tracks income inequality.
2) Supplement the LIM-AT with an improved Market Basket Measure to monitor material deprivation.
3) Track progress or lack of progress in reducing poverty in Canada using Taxfiler data because this data set is robust, reliable and availability at multiple geographical levels.
For groups with lower rates of tax filing, government should invest in targeted outreach and support to ensure tax-delivered benefits are reaching all eligible recipients.
LEAD ON REDUCING POVERTY AND INCOME INEQUALITY
Over the past 25 years, income inequality in British Columbia has been increasing. Based on the most recent Statistics Canada data (2014), the family income pie is very unevenly divided: the richest 10% of BC families received 27% of the total income, while the poorest 50% of families shared just 25% of the total income. After adjusting for inflation, between 1989 and 2014 the average total income for British Columbia’s richest 10% of families grew by 49%, while income for the poorest 10% grew by only 8%.
Since 2006, First Call has urged British Columbia’s government to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines. Our recommendation to the BC government is to set a goal of reducing BC’s current child poverty rate of 20% to 7% or lower by 2020. BC’s newly-elected government has promised to introduce a province-wide poverty reduction plan.
A CPRS, secured in legislation, will be an important support and complement to BC’s efforts. In this context, we endorse Campaign 2000’s recommendation that the federal poverty reduction strategy set the following targets and timelines:
1) Reduce Canada’s child and family poverty rate by 50% between 2016 and 2020.
2) Reduce Canada’s poverty rate by 75% within a decade.
A successful strategy will acknowledge and seek to eliminate the deepest poverty in Canada—that which disproportionately affects female lone-parent households, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, youth in and from government care, recent immigrants, and racialized people. Poverty rates for these over-represented groups should also be halved within four years and cut by 75% within a decade.
First Call’s 2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card includes the following recommendations as concrete steps that the federal government can include in a national poverty reduction strategy to reduce income inequality and reduce child, youth and family poverty:
- As a significant employer and contractor, ensure the Government of Canada pays direct and contract employees a living wage that allows them to meet their basic needs, properly support their children and avoid chronic financial stress.
- Ensure the Canada Child Benefit reduces the child poverty rate by 50% in 4 years, implement indexation immediately and ensure access to the benefit for families living at higher rates of poverty.
- Guided by the calls to action in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the rulings of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the federal government should immediately increase funding for First Nations child welfare, education and community health services and services for urban Indigenous people, and develop a long-term poverty eradication strategy in collaboration with First Nations and other Indigenous organizations and communities.
- BC’s new provincial government has pledged to implement the $10aDay Child Care Plan put forward by First Call coalition members the Early Childhood Educators of BC and the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, to establish universal access to high-quality, affordable child care for BC children and families. The federal government in turn should support this BC initiative with adoption of a national early childhood education and care framework that includes a well-developed policy framework based on the same principles, is guided by targets and timelines and supported by long-term, sustained funding.
- The federal government should increase the maternity and parental leave benefit level to 70% of employment income and reduce qualifying hours to 300 over the best 12 weeks of the last 12 months of work. All new parents (regardless of work status) should be included, and a secondary caregiver benefit should be developed to address gender disparities in care work within households.
- The federal government should allow grandparents on CPP Disability who are raising their grandchildren to continue to receive the children’s benefit after they turn 65.
- The federal government should intensify its efforts to help immigrants and refugees adjust to life in Canada by enhancing employment assistance, removing long-standing barriers to qualification for professionals trained abroad, making more language training available, and improving employment standards and human rights protections and enforcement.
- The federal government should extend the program that waived transportation loans for Syrian refugees travelling to Canada to all new refugees and immediately cancel all outstanding transportation loan debt.
- The federal government should do more to improve access to post-secondary education by further removing financial barriers for low-income students and lowering student debt levels beyond the measures announced by the Canadian government in July 2016. Policy options include reducing or eliminating tuition fees, providing lower-income students with more grants instead of loans and making student loans interest free.
- The federal government should enhance Employment Insurance to expand access, duration and levels of benefits. Reduce the number of qualifying hours to 360 for all workers and enhance benefit levels over a longer benefit period of 50 weeks.
- The federal government should increase their efforts to build and secure housing for low-income people. This should include building more social and affordable rental housing and maintaining existing affordable housing stock to reduce the number of families in core housing need and to eliminate homelessness. The national housing strategy must include a long-term funding commitment to meet these goals.
- The federal government should work with the provinces and territories to introduce universal coverage for all Canadians for prescription drugs, dental care and eye care as essential aspects of health care.
- The federal government should address growing income inequality by restoring greater fairness to the personal income taxation system, closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and re-introducing the principle of taxation based on ability to pay.
First Call also endorses another tax measure, proposed in the 2017 Alternative Federal Budget produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and supported by Campaign 2000, to create a targeted GST credit top-up of $1,800 per adult and child for those living below the poverty line. This top-up would go to all low-income people regardless of family type and is projected would lift 560,000 people out of poverty—half of them children. This new GST credit top-up would also reduce income inequality as an effective method of income redistribution to those with lower incomes.
As part of Campaign 2000, First Call seconds the expectation that a federal action plan to eradicate poverty be developed in consultation with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous governments and organizations, non-governmental organizations and people living in poverty.
First Call maintains the 1989 House of Commons goal to end child poverty in Canada by 2000 is still the best spirit of a federal poverty reduction strategy. Achieving this goal is long overdue. The federal government holds a key responsibility to make the more robust investments in the services and infrastructure that can improve the conditions of daily life for so many Canadians now living in poverty. As recommended by the World Health Organization, if we truly want to reduce health inequities that result from high rates of poverty and inequality, we must tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources—the structural drivers of those conditions of daily life.
Recognizing the structural causes of poverty and inequality calls for a structural response that shifts from a neo-liberal view that blames individuals for their poverty. Instead Canada can create a new social contract built on strong policy responses to the challenges facing today’s families: precarious, part-time work; inadequate social assistance rates; hunger and food insecurity; entrenched inequities based on race, gender, disability; limited access to training, a growing income and asset gap between the rich and poor; and shortages of affordable housing and quality child care.
First Call coalition members offer these recommendations for this new, fairer social contract to the federal government and look forward to supporting action to achieve this vision of a Canada free from poverty.