Break out the champagne, Mr. Harper. UNICEF is officially allowing Canadian politicians to pat themselves on the back for having lowered child poverty rates from 23% to 21% between 2008 and 2011. We should probably host a $1,000/plate gala for federal and provincial politicians to applaud themselves for having pulled an estimated 180,000 children out of poverty during those years.
Yet, while champagne (which would be paid for by taxpayer dollars) flows down the gullets of elected trustees, poverty continues to affect three million Canadians—a fifth of whom are children. This is just one measurement, others differ slightly but even the 13.3% child poverty rate recognized by the United Nations ranks us well above the average child poverty rate in western countries.
Canada is ranked 24th out of 34 OECD countries in percentage of overall population living in poverty. For the record 24th out of 34 is bad. Of course, the general poverty rate only tells us so much. No one can agree on how to measure poverty, and any official statistics are outdated by nearly four years. The latter may possibly have something to do with the decision to turn the long form census into scrap paper—why would a government need to know about the people they governed anyways?
We can still muddle through with antiquated data; that never hurt anyone. The most recent data available is from 2011 and, since that’s when the survey of child poverty ends, that isn’t good. Over a third of single parents families are below the poverty line. Nearly a third of single people are below that line. These numbers are growing.
Children make up a significant portion of Canada’s population, yet there is no voice for them at the government level. With growing apathy among young voters, the need to do something more for children is growing. One estimate calls to increase the National Child Benefit Supplement to $5,400 per child to pull these kids out of poverty. Currently, the maximum for the 1st child is around $3,000, and the maximums for second and third children are substantially lower. Somehow, I don’t think Mr. Harper will find room for that in his Spring Budget.
Perhaps the saddest part is that nearly 40% of Canadians blame the poor for their lot in life instead of blaming lack of jobs or high prices for necessities. Politicians ironically stand on their soapbox to plead for more help for the poor or to promise they are doing all they can to represent “ordinary” and poor Canadians. Yet none of our MPs or their families are currently poor. In fact, the income of a humble backbencher is well over six times the take-home income of the average household below the poverty line.
Let caviar be shoveled into the flabby stomachs hidden by designs labels of our MPs as they congratulate themselves on shrinking the child poverty rate in Canada during the worst recession since The Great Depression. Just remember that the record for our home and native land is not that impressive and that far more could and needs to be done. Maybe we can halt the celebration until the 13-20% of Canadian youth in poverty will actually have the chance to drink champagne and eat caviar when they come of age.