C2000 Premiers Op Ed
Dennis.Raphael at mail.atkinson.yorku.ca
Fri Aug 2 07:50:02 PDT 2002
This op-ed was published in the Toronto Star on Monday.
Addressing Child Poverty Key to Premiers' Health Agenda
As Canada's Premiers meet later this week at their annual gathering,
important issues related to health care funding are likely to dominate the
agenda. Given a report released this week by the National Council of Welfare
that shows that almost one in five children in Canada remains poor the
Premiers would be wise to broaden their discussions about the country's
health. We should not have to remind our provincial and territorial leaders
that the well-being of children and the health of Canadians need to be
approached as one and the same.
With more than 1.3 million children living in poverty, we hope that Canada's
Premiers will keep the well-being of our younger generations at the top of
their minds during their discussions.
Canadians know that there is a fundamental link between a healthy start in
life and the long-term impact on the well-being of children. We also know
that low income children are more likely to encounter more hurdles to
healthy development and to experience a host of negative situations that
affect their health and well being. Research by the Canadian Council on
Social Development, the Canadian Institute of Child Health and others shows
that low income children are more likely to have lower birth weights
resulting in adverse effects such as chronic illness and disability. Low
income children are more likely to have lower functioning levels of vision,
speech, mobility, dexterity, cognition, emotion and pain. Children living in
poverty are also less likely to live in safe neighbourhoods and are at a
disproportionate higher risk of exposure to environmental contaminants.
Investments in preventative measures and health promotion should be an
integral part of Canada's health system. We also need to do a much better
job of protecting the environments where children and families live. A
collective commitment to the health and well-being of children and families
requires a shift in public policy priorities. The recent focus on tax cuts
has not been successful in substantially reducing child and family poverty.
Instead, it has contributed to the severe reduction of social and economic
supports to families over the past decade. For instance, there is only
regulated child care to serve one out of ten children under twelve in
Canada. And with the freeze on social housing across Canada, affordable
units are increasingly out of reach for many families. In the midst of
prosperity, low income families with children are living, on average, more
than $9,000 below the poverty line.
To begin to turn around the appalling situation facing too many children in
Canada, our Premiers must demonstrate their willingness to collaborate and
significantly increase investments in a comprehensive plan for children that
promotes a healthy, inclusive society. This week's Premiers' Conference can
be a good start. Since the National Children's Agenda emerged in 1999 as a
positive first step in collaboration between the federal and provincial
governments the results of this promising partnership have had only a
limited impact in meeting the needs of families and children.
We know what it takes to make a difference. Those nations that have done a
much better job in reducing child and family poverty than Canada have done
it through a healthy stock of good jobs, generous income security and
unemployment benefits, national affordable housing programs as well as
widely accessible early childhood education and care programs.
We can also do much better. Let's start by reducing our levels of child
poverty by 50% over the next five years by raising the annual child benefits
from the current $2,400 to a maximum of $4,200 per child available to all
low, modest and middle-income families. Let's introduce new investments and
policy mechanisms for quality early childhood education and care services
that are universal, inclusive and accessible in all communities. Let the
provinces join in a political and financial partnership with the Federal
Government with the goal of increasing the number of new affordable units
produced to 20,000 annually and the number of refurbished units to 10,000
per year. And let's make sure that parents have access to family friendly
jobs with good wages to support their families.
The next steps of a National Children's Agenda can be taken if governments
at all levels choose to work together with the interests of children as a
guiding principle for action. The future of Canada's children is in our
hands. Let's put children on the Premiers agenda.
Pedro Barata is the Ontario Coordinator of Campaign 2000, a cross-Canada
coalition dedicated to ending child and family poverty. Marcel Lauzi
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the President of the Canadian Council on Social Development
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