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Manitoba’s child-poverty policy simply not working

December 8, 2014 — 
This analysis piece by the U of M’s Sid Frankel, an associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work, appeared in the online and the print edition of the Winnipeg Free Press on December 8.

 

In its 2014 report card, Campaign 2000, the national campaign to end child poverty reported Manitoba had the highest child-poverty rate of any province at 29 per cent. This is almost 10 per cent higher than the rate for all of Canada. Almost three out of 10 Manitoba children are poor, compared with fewer than two out of 10 in Canada as a whole.

This is important because there is strong evidence child poverty leads to poor developmental outcomes, impairs school performance and significantly raises the risk of disease and disability throughout the lives of these children resulting in costs to health services, social services and income support.

Children who grow up in poverty are less likely to be able to fully participate in the economy. So the stakes are high.

The really distressing thing is that Manitoba has had a poverty reduction and social inclusion strategy — All Aboard — since May 2009, but it is clearly not working for children. On the positive side, we know how to fix it. The right programs are in place. The investment is just not high enough.

Since the initiation of All Aboard in 2009, the numbers have gone the wrong way. Manitoba’s child-poverty rate has been higher in every year since its introduction. From 2008 to 2012, there has been a 1.4 per cent increase in Manitoba’s child-poverty rate. Manitoba has experienced an average yearly increase of one-tenth of a per cent. An increasing rate of child poverty is not what we would expect from an effective poverty reduction strategy.

In contrast, the child-poverty rate has decreased in Canada as a whole. The change from 2008 to 2012 for Canada was down 3.1 per cent. The average yearly decrease in child poverty is one-fifth of a per cent. This hardly seems remarkable, but it is much better than for Manitoba.

All Aboard clearly fails the test of decreasing child poverty.

The poverty measure used is Statistics Canada’s after-tax low-income measure. This kind of relative measure correlates most strongly with health and developmental outcomes, and it is the measure that UNICEF and OECD use for international comparisons. But, the conclusions are the same if other poverty measures for children are used.

In its reporting on All Aboard, the provincial government avoids breaking out children for the kinds of comparisons with the 2008 base year made here. But, a government intent upon developing effective policy would acknowledge a policy failure when Manitoba’s child-poverty-reduction record is worse than Canada’s as a whole.

Child-poverty-reduction targets and time lines to accomplish them should be implemented. Otherwise, All Aboard is not a plan, but an unclear wish. How can we trust that government is serious if it will not establish a specific goal? Tony Blair did it in the United Kingdom and the Liberal government in Ontario also established targets and time lines. Why not Manitoba’s NDP government?

The Manitoba Child Benefit is a supplement for working-poor families with children. It was introduced by the Sterling Lyon administration as the child-related income-support program. In 2008, the Doer government renamed it and increased its maximum by only $5 per month. It has not even kept up with inflation. Significantly higher benefits are required to move the children of the working poor out of poverty.

It is time for Manitoba’s government to fix All Aboard. It is simply too costly to accept having the highest provincial child-poverty rate in Canada, and not doing enough about it.

Sid Frankel is an associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Manitoba and a member of the Campaign 2000 to end child poverty.

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