Manitoba

Report paints sad portrait of child poverty in Manitoba

If current trends continue, it will take Manitoba more than a thousand years to end child poverty, according to a report released Wednesday by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

Says it would take more than a millennium to stamp out, at current rate

Cover of the report Manitoba: Poverty Central, release by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg on Dec. 9, 2020. (CBC)

If current trends continue, it will take Manitoba more than a thousand years to end child poverty, according to a report released Wednesday by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

The report, Manitoba: Poverty Central, is based on 2018 data and reveals the province once again has the highest rates of child poverty in Canada. It follows up on the Broken Promise Stolen Futures report, which was based on 2017 data.

"It is more than time we make poverty the problem and not the people trapped in it. If we truly cared about caring for our most vulnerable, we would not be seeing this disturbing rise in child poverty rates," said Kate Kehler, the council's executive director.

"We have to remember, this is 2018 data. The most up-to-date but how much worse has the 2020 pandemic made it for far too many Manitoba families?"

In 2018, there were 87,730 Manitoba children living in poverty, up from 85,450 in 2017. At the rate the province is progressing, the report says it will take more than 1,179 years to end child poverty in Manitoba.

If a parent or parents are in poverty, advocates say the children are also in poverty. Case in point is Sara, one of the people profiled in the report, who lost one of her part-time jobs during the pandemic and is struggling to pay her bills and support her son.

"Student loans is now threatening to take my income tax return because I missed reapplying for repayment delay. I had to come up with $500 to sort that out as I need my tax return," Sara said.

Staggeringly high rates

The 2018 data shows that across Canada, the child poverty rates are still staggeringly high, regardless of whether the child is in a one- or two-parent household. In Manitoba, poverty affected 16.3 per cent of two-parent households, compared to the national average of 9.8 per cent. In single parent households, the rate quadruples with 63.4 per cent of children living in poverty.

Since it relies on statistics from 2018, the report doesn't factor in the impacts of COVID-19. Advocates to end poverty, the report notes, stated at the beginning of the pandemic that families hovering around or below the poverty line would be hardest hit. 

The most recent numbers from Harvest Manitoba show increased food security demands have led to food bank needs. Of the 85,000 Manitobans it serves each month, Harvest's website says 43 per cent are children.

The report also cites Manitoba's minimum wage as a factor in the high poverty outcomes, which at $11.90 an hour is the third-lowest in Canada behind Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. It refers to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which said an hourly minimum wage of $16.15 is necessary for a two-parent and two-child family to succeed.

The Broken Promise Stolen Futures report shines a light on the long history of Manitoba governments redirecting funds to their departments that were meant to directly benefit First Nations children. Since most of the children in the care of Child and Family Services are Indigenous, Manitoba: Poverty Central raised the issue that the this loss of funds has been detrimental to the children.

"A state of emergency has been declared across the province due to COVID-19 but the fact is that too many kids and their families have already been in such a state for far too long," said community organizer Michael Redhead Champagne, who contribued to the report.

"Our provincial government is absorbing federal funding meant to go directly to kids and families affected by CFS — this keeps those kids in care, and those dollars going into Manitoba's general revenue."

The report lists 21 recommendations, some of which include:

  • The Government of Manitoba must immediately revise its poverty reduction strategy, committing to a bold target and timeline within a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, to reduce poverty and social exclusion in Manitoba. 

  • End the practice of Child and Family Services retaining the Children's Special Allowance. It should be kept in trust for children in care until they age out of care.

  • Increase adequate public, suitable and affordable housing and commit to building at least 300 new social housing units per year while increasing maintenance on existing units.

  • Immediately introduce a Livable Basic Needs Benefit that lifts all Manitobans up to or above the Census Family Low Income Measure After Tax. The Liveable Basic Needs Benefit will transform EIA as a first step towards introducing a basic income by removing conditionality from assistance, increasing its universality and improving its adequacy. Progressive steps to improving this benefit will provide a basic income guarantee for all Manitobans.

For more, read the full report at Manitoba Poverty Central.

About the Author

Orinthia Babb is a journalist and associate producer with CBC Manitoba's current affairs department.

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