Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 7, 2009
Poverty shadows lives of Canadian children
Just as the Christ child was born in a stable, hundreds of thousands of youngsters know hunger, cold, filth
Journey to Justice
Canadians are just beginning to prepare themselves for the season of Christmas. The important feast has a deeper meaning than overindulgence in food and frenzied consumerism. For Christians it is the moment when God took human form and renewed the hope of salvation for the world.
Believers recount this story of an infant deity born into poverty so bleak that his first hours were spent in a barn "because there was no room for them in the inn."
The Christ child was placed on straw in a manger, since there was no bed. His parents wrapped their baby in rags, as "swaddling clothes" were all that was available.
Who would have imagined that God would have entered human history in such a way? And who would imagine that hundreds of thousands of Canadian children, more than two millennia later, would continue to live in grinding poverty?
One month before Christmas 2009, Canadians were informed that almost one in every 10 kids still lives in poverty in this, one of the richest countries on the face of the earth. On Nov. 24, 1989, Parliament unanimously voted to end child poverty by the year 2000. Today, after 20 years, this promise remains broken.
According to Campaign 2000, the coalition of over 100 groups that includes the major churches, social agencies, labour unions and Citizens for Public Justice, this year's Report Card on child poverty shows disturbing realities.
The available numbers may actually disguise the depth of our failure. These latest statistics on child poverty are from 2007, well before the global financial meltdown.
Still, in that year 637,000 children lived in poverty (not counting poverty among aboriginal children which is estimated to have reached one in every four kids.)
When compared to other countries, Canada's record is dismal: Inequality between the rich and poor in Canada has grown more than in any other wealthy OECD country during the last decade, with the exception of Germany.
Canadian children do not live in poverty because their parents won't work: Campaign 2000 reports that many low-income families have some employment income, yet are not finding jobs with sufficient pay, hours and benefits to get above the poverty line.
A PARENT WORKS
In the 2000s, four out of 10 low-income children had at least one parent who worked full time throughout the year but could not rise out of poverty, up from the less than one out of every three children during the 1990s.
If we really wanted to end poverty in Canada, could it be done?
History tells us that we could severely reduce, and eventually eliminate poverty, if we and our governments determined to do so.
Remember that less than a generation ago the populace decided to address poverty among elderly Canadians and governments put programs in place such as the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
It worked to substantially lower those poverty rates.
Are Canada's children less worthy of poverty-free futures?
Campaign 2000 advocates for measures like:
The federal government must set appropriate poverty reduction targets, and reporting on progress must become a parliamentary routine.
On Nov. 24, 2009, MPs took the first step and unanimously passed a motion that the "Government of Canada . . . develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all."
This is a major step towards accomplishing the first goal of Dignity for All: The Campaign for a Poverty-free Canada: a comprehensive and integrated federal poverty elimination plan.
We can all do our part to ensure that the next 20 years are not wasted. By joining the Dignity for All campaign (www.dignityforall.ca) and enlisting the support of your Christian community as well, you can show your support for implementation of a federal poverty elimination plan, legislation to enforce best practices and the fiscal capacity to invest in our children.
Don't let the Christmas season pass without giving this gift of your time and energy to the birth of new hope for future generations.
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)
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