Child and family poverty in Manitoba a 'chronic nightmare,' report says

Manitoba has the highest child poverty rate of any province, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Campaign 2000 wants federal government's new child benefit to reduce child poverty by 50% in 5 years

It has been 26 years since the House of Commons passed a unanimous resolution in 1989 to end child poverty in Canada by 2000. (Kim Kaschor/CBC)

Manitoba has the highest child poverty rate of any province, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The province's rate is listed at 29 per cent, a full 10 percentage points above the national rate, according to Campaign 2000, a coalition of more than 120 organizations lobbying governments to take action against poverty.

On Tuesday, it released its annual national report card on child and family poverty, Let's Do This: Let's End Child Poverty for Good. Campaign 2000's provincial partners released their reports at the same time, including the Manitoba Child and Family Report Card 2015.

The number of Manitoba children and families in poverty, which was pushing a crisis level in 1992, has now become a "chronic nightmare," the Manitoba report states.

It has been 26 years since the House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution in 1989 to end child poverty in Canada by 2000. It's also been six years since the House of Commons passed a unanimous resolution to "develop an immediate plan to end poverty in Canada for all." Campaign 2000 launched in 1991 out of concern about the lack of government progress on its promise.

In Manitoba, the government issued the All Aboard Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2009, and then in 2011 the legislature passed the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act.

The necessary government action plans never materialized and now 1.34 million children — almost one in five — are in poverty today, said Anita Khanna, national co-ordinator for Campaign 2000.

How can we justify allowing one in every 3.5 Manitoba children to grow up in poverty?- Manitoba poverty report card

"The problem with all these resolutions, motions, strategies and acts is that they stop at declaring intent," states the 2015 Manitoba Child and Family Report Card.

"They do not make clear commitments through establishing targets to reduce the rate and depth of poverty by specific amounts, and they do not commit to timelines to reach these targets. In short, they do not demonstrate the political will involved in tying the intent to a public promise.

"As a result, what looked like a crisis in 1992 has become a chronic nightmare," the report states, adding "too many Manitoba children have grown up in poverty in the intervening years.

"How can we justify allowing one in every 3.5 Manitoba children to grow up in poverty?"

Children in poverty are more likely to experience impaired cognitive, emotional and social development, to suffer from poor health status and increased risk of poor health in childhood and throughout their lives, to have poor school performance and less satisfying careers, to be victims of child maltreatment, and to be involved in youth and adult crime, the report states.

Campaign 2000 is calling on the federal government to ensure the design of the new Canada Child Benefit reduces child poverty by 50 per cent in five years.

'Angry and upset'

Sid Frankel, a professor of social work at the University of Manitoba, said he's tired of Manitoba's dismal performance. 

"Like everyone else, I'm sorry to be here talking about this. This is, believe it or not, the 26th Manitoba child and family poverty report card, and I'm getting kind of tired and increasingly angry and upset about what we have to report."

Frankel wants Premier Greg Selinger to do the same thing for children as he's doing for the environment.

"We want to see him announce specific targets to reduce the child poverty rate and the depth of child poverty in Manitoba. It's important for the environment. If he's willing to do it for the environment, why isn't he willing to do it for children?"

Manitoba needs more better-paying jobs, Frankel said.

"Why is this happening in Manitoba? One reason is our labour market. Manitoba produces the most poor children, or the highest percentage of poor children based only on market income, earnings and investments. And from market income alone, 37.5 per cent of Manitoba children would be poor. When we compare provinces, we have low hourly wages."

Frankel also pointed out that child poverty rates are higher in rural areas — which is true across Canada. 

Manitoba was one of the first to develop an income-tested child benefit, introduced in 1980 by the Sterling Lyon government, but increased only once by the Doer government, by a maximum of $5 a month, Frankel said.

"So it hasn't even kept up with inflation. So believe it or not, we are calling on the Manitoba government to increase the Manitoba child benefit so it has the purchasing power that it had in 1980. That's where we're at. Secondly, we think that government should index it to inflation, so that it's not losing benefit over time. And in the long run, we think that it should be increased as part of a targeted plan to decrease child poverty."

Mom eyes Christmas with apprehension

Shelley Sauve, a volunteer at Winnipeg Harvest, said the bottom line is the numbers don't add up for families. 

"My story is simple. I'm an educated single working mother of two special multi-needs teens. I also have the care of an aging, ailing parent. Typically, I have three to five jobs at a time.… Last spring I didn't see both of my children for over a month. I left for work before they got up in the morning. I often worked two or three jobs in one day, and I arrived home after they had settled in for the night. I still couldn't make ends meet."

Sauve is worried now about the impending arrival of Christmas — and no money left over for anything. 

"What a horrible choice for any parent, whatsoever, to either see and raise their children, or provide for their basic needs of shelter, clothing, education and food. Wouldn't it be amazing in this First World country, this land of plenty that so many people want to join us, if every parent could provide, not only the basics, but a worthwhile life with a basic income and a government that puts our kids, our future, first?"


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