The Edmonton Social Planning Council, the Alberta College of Social Workers and Public Interest Alberta released a new report, “No Change: After 25 years of Promises it is Time to Eliminate Child Poverty” on the 25th anniversary of the all party House of Commons vote to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.
The report shows that 143,200 children in Alberta lived below the low-income measure (LIM After Tax) in 2012. This represents 16.2% of all children, practically ‘no change’ from 1989 (16.4%). In fact, with Alberta’s population growth, there are 28,670 more children in poverty in Alberta than in 1989.
“The statistics come from federal taxfiler data (Statistics Canada has cut the data source that has been used for years - the SLID) so this provides a much more accurate and detailed picture of poverty in Alberta and Canada,” explains John Kolkman, the main report author and Research Coordinator of the Edmonton Social Planning Council. "The taxfiler data is more accurate because it includes families with a lower socio-economic status who are missed in surveys because of language barriers or not having a phone, and children and youth living on First Nations."
The report shows that despite Alberta’s strong economy, Alberta’s income inequality has increased faster than the national average, with the top 1% of earners seeing real income gains of over 60% since 1982 while the bottom half of income earners only saw a tiny gain of 3.4%.
“With close to 60% of children living in poverty having at least one parent working full time, full year, we need to be considering living wage policies that will assure that people working full time are not living in poverty,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. “By re-establishing a progressive tax system, Alberta could easily afford to invest in the public services that prevent and reduce poverty and in a child tax benefit that that would lift many families out of poverty.”
The report calls on the government to establish a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy that includes increasing investments in many current strategies that are proven to reduce poverty and to make new commitments to policies and services like quality childcare and affordable housing that support families to get out of poverty.
The Alberta government’s plan to eliminate child poverty is long overdue,” says Lori Sigurdson, Manager, Professional Affairs of the Alberta College of Social Workers. “We know how to achieve this. Our report details key policy initiatives that would lift Alberta families out of poverty and reduce much suffering. Sadly, what seems to be missing is the political will to make this a priority.”
The report shows that child poverty is directly related to the systemic issues that create barriers and impact women, immigrants, aboriginal peoples and people with health issues. For example 69% of low wage-workers (less than $16/hour) are women, and women still only make around 60% on average in Alberta of what a man earns.
“We know that when women are poor, the children they care for are also poor,” said Rhoda Mitchell, Social Issues Coordinator at the Women’s Centre of Calgary. “Women living in poverty have identified priority solutions: increase income, increase access to affordable childcare, and strengthen Alberta’s social infrastructure. We believe that ending child poverty lies in ending women’s poverty.”
While the new child poverty numbers now include families on reserve it is not possible to determine from the taxfiler data the exact number of children on first nation’s reserves living in poverty. However, we do know that a significant reason for the very high numbers of children in poverty is related to the systemic discrimination and mistreatment of FNMI peoples that must be addressed in Alberta’s comprehensive poverty strategy.
“Child poverty in the Aboriginal community is a serious issue that negatively affects our future leaders,” said Rachelle Venne, CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women. “Collaborative, multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the City of Edmonton's Taskforce on Eliminating Poverty which has a specific engagement process with the Aboriginal community is what is needed for the systemic and long term change that is necessary for the future.”
"I am appalled to know that there are so many hungry and homeless children in our rich province," said Sandra Burgess, with the Child Well-being Initiative. “As a parent and dietitian who spent my career on food issues, I cannot understand why our government and other citizens don’t see that unmet needs of impoverished kids constitute an emergency.”