Child Poverty Assessment in Canada

Introduction

Child poverty is not only the problem of children but also a threat to the development of a country (Albanese, 2015). In Canada today, every fifth child is estimated to be affected by poverty. It presents considerable risks for the children’s health, education, development, and future well-being. It is important that child poverty is not regarded as the fault of families in which children live but as a social issue, and a national strategy needs to be developed to address it. To design such a strategy and propose solutions, poverty needs to be defined, child poverty statistics need to be explored, the effects of poverty on children need to be described, the issue of child care should be addressed, and causes of poverty need to be explained.

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Poverty Assessment

In order to address the issues of poverty, it is necessary to define the concept and to attempt to measure it in order to understand what measures need to be taken. Poverty is generally defined as a lack of access to resources that are needed to ensure proper living conditions and meeting human needs. However, with the abundance of factors that contribute to the well-being of individuals and families in the modern world and that should be considered in the attempts to define poverty, more advanced frameworks have been designed (Adamson, 2012).

The basic understanding is that there is absolute poverty, and there is relative poverty, and the latter includes these more advanced frameworks. People in absolute poverty do not have sufficient amounts of what is necessary for their survival, such as food, shelter, or medication. Relative poverty suggests that the level of quality of living conditions and other well-being indicators are lower than those among the majority of people in a given country or community.

In Canada, statistical assessment of poverty is based on such measurements as low-income cutoff line (LICO), low-income measure (LIM), and market basket measure (MBM). LICO is based on the portion of families’ income spent on food, clothing, and accommodation. LIM is based on the median adjusted income and compares families’ incomes to average indicators. MBM is an absolute measurement, as it calculates the level of income necessary to meet basic needs, i.e. to buy certain products and services at market prices (the list of products and services is provided by the government and regularly reviewed).

Based on these measurements, there is the concept of minimum income, which suggests that people whose income is lower than a certain level that indicates poverty should be provided with monetary assistance, and those who live in more grave poverty conditions should be prioritized in this provision of assistance. Apart from money, people living in poverty should also be provided with social support, and the form and amount of such support depend on their extent of poverty, too.

Child Poverty Statistics

A major issue in the child poverty dynamics in Canada is that over 23 years between 1989 and 2012, there was an increase in the rate from 15.8 to 19.1 percent. It means that one child in five in Canada today lives in poverty in one form or another and is expected to experience the negative effects of poverty in his or her future. It is also noteworthy that the addressed period of 23 years included periods of unprecedented economic growth in Canada, which means that, while the country was becoming richer overall, more children became poor (Albanese, 2015).

However, it should not be overlooked that poverty is spread unevenly among different groups of the child population of Canada; in fact, serious inequality can be observed. For example, the poverty rate among aboriginal children is 40 percent, while this rate is 17 for non-aboriginal children. The statistical data show that there are particularly vulnerable groups that experience the adverse effects of poverty to a considerably larger extent.

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Further examination of statistics presents even more alarming results. In Canada today, children are the largest group of society affected by poverty (previously elders constituted such a group). Also, poverty is more spread among poorly educated people, minorities, aboriginals, and women, including single parents. Among children from immigrant families, children with disabilities, and children from families with a single female parent, there are more poor children than among all children in Canada.

In terms of different parts of the country, the most children who live under the low-income measure after tax (LIMAT) live in Toronto (26.8 percent of all the children in the city), Montreal (25.5 percent), and Winnipeg (24.1), according to statistical data from 2014. It is evident from these results that child poverty is a significant issue, and it should be addressed with the consideration of inequality in poverty distribution among different groups of children.

Effects of Poverty on Children

The key point made in scholar studies of child poverty is that it negatively affects the development of countries overall (Albanese, 2015). First of all, poverty imposes limits on children’s development and their future, which includes worse education, possibly worse socialization, and worse health indicators. The long-term outcome of poverty among children is that new generations, when their members become active participants of the social, political, and economic lives of a country, are less prepared for successful performance.

This is particularly relevant to Canada because the child poverty rates have been increasing, which means that quality of life and growth rates for the entire country can be expected to decrease with the change of generations. In particular, costs of such crucial institutions as courts and social protection, health care and medical facilities, and social assistance increase for everyone in a country that is affected by increasing child poverty.

De Boer, Rothwell, and Lee (2013) particularly stress that the negative effects of poverty on children’s further development depend on age: children who live in poverty in their early years are more likely to face such effects than those who become poor during their adolescence. Also, the connection was found between poverty and maltreatment. A lower socioeconomic status presents risks for child abuse and neglect that are five times greater than the risks for children with a higher socioeconomic status. In terms of activities, poor parents are less likely to afford activities that contribute to their children’s development, such as after-school courses or summer programs, and children in such families only have access to neighborhood activities that are free.

Another important point is that lower access to high-quality health care due to low income is a factor in low-income children’s health outcomes that are worse than those of their high-income counterparts. However, poor health outcomes can be due not only to access to health resources but also to lifestyles. In families living in poverty, healthy eating is less widespread (e.g., because of the lack of knowledge on the benefits of healthy foods or inability to afford them), and due to improper nutrition, low-income children are more likely to have obesity.

For children, poverty presents many other risks and exposures; particularly, low-income children are more likely to be emotionally, physically, or sexually victimized. Also, they are more exposed to mental health complications (such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem), smoking and substance abuse, STDs, antisocial behaviors, and homelessness. Finally, hunger remains a problem: more than 860,000 people in Canada used the food bank in 2016.

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Child Care

An important aspect of child poverty is that parents in some families are unable to afford proper child care. When the maternity or paternity leave of a parent is about to be over, parents inevitably start thinking about ways in which they can ensure that their child receives proper care services while they are at work. In child care, Canada-wide median monthly fees constitute 761 CAD for infants, 701 CAD for toddlers, and 674 CAD for preschoolers.

It is noteworthy that the costs associated with childcare for parents are significantly different in different parts of Canada, which is why some families may decide to move. For example, the expenses of child care for a family in Ontario amount to 1,000 CAD per month, and in Gatineau, they amount to 179 CAD, while the latter city is virtual across the river. The most expensive city in this regard is Toronto. According to Albanese (2015), a child care worker’s salary is comparable to that of a parking attendant.

The inability to afford proper child care can result in a number of difficulties for families and a number of factors that can aggravate their poverty or negative effects of it. For example, some families may opt for better child care for one child and for doing without any child care for other children, which means that some of their children are deprived of necessary care. As was mentioned, neighborhood activities can be chosen by some parents as an option to replace child care, but this practice is not likely to contribute to the proper development of a child.

Lack of proper child care increases children’s exposure to various risks of poverty (see Effects of Poverty on Children), including education problems, health problems, and antisocial behaviors. Also, some parents may fail to recognize the importance of proper child care, and this especially emphasizes the importance of social support for families in which children do not receive proper care due to economic reasons or neglect.

Causes of Poverty

There is a lasting stereotype that poor people are poor because they are untalented, lazy, and unwilling to work. However, this vision lacks the recognition that, while some people have access to areas in which their talents and hardworking can earn them wealth, other people do not have such access in spite of how talented they may be or how hard they work because they were born in vulnerable, underprivileged communities or families.

For example, some do not succeed because they did not have a chance to receive proper education; if they had received it, it is possible that they would have made valuable contributions to the development of their societies through their work. This prejudice against the poor is one of the main barriers to the attempts to eradicate poverty, and it is acknowledged today in the academic community that this prejudice should be overcome in research and in practice (Albanese, 2015). Based on this prejudice, there is also the idea that the poor are different from other members of the society in terms of values and lifestyles; however, this belief can only be qualified as victimization.

Instead, a vision that can be more constructive and helpful in research and implementation of policies and practices aimed at eradicating poverty is that poverty is rather a social issue than an individual or family issue. This vision is explained by the fact that many people live in poverty due to the absence of jobs for them or due to the lack of provision of appropriate resources to their communities.

Blomberg, Kroll, Kallio, and Erola (2013) explored perceived causes of poverty among social workers and revealed a surprising variety of opinions; however, one of the major themes in social workers’ responses was the lack of support for vulnerable groups. In the context of child poverty, it can be argued that children are even more vulnerable than adults in terms of the formers’ limited ability to improve their living conditions or income because many of such children who live in families fully depend on their families. This is why, among all the groups of low-income people, children are a group to which victimization is particularly harmful; in other words, it should be recognized that special support should be provided to children because the causes of their poverty are social problems.

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Possible Solutions

Upon establishing that child poverty is a social problem, it is necessary to address it from social and economic perspectives. The first thing to be promoted is the creation of new jobs that would allow parents to provide sufficiently for their children (Albanese, 2015). Also, poverty is often the result of a lack of assets in families, and this lack causes instability and possibly slipping into poverty; therefore, incentives should be applied for low-income families to build assets that would protect their children from the negative effects of poverty.

Another issue is taxations; for those who can be regarded as poor according to measurements employed in Canada (see Poverty Assessment), tax burdens can be much heavier than for people with sufficient income, which is why initiatives should be proposed to provide tax benefits for them. Also, it should not be overlooked that poverty is often a community-level problem, which is why investment in low-income communities can be a tool of improving living- and employment-related situations for people in those communities.

Overall, four elements of fighting child poverty in Canada can be identified. First, a national poverty strategy should be developed that would recognize poverty as a social issue (Smith-Carrier & Lawlor, 2017) instead of a problem of the poor only (see Causes of Poverty). Second, a coordinated action plan should be designed and implemented as part of coordinated efforts of the government and the society; an integrated approach to poverty should be adopted instead of addressing particular outcomes of child poverty, such as poor education or poor health care, separately.

Third, the government should consult all the stakeholders and ensure that the communication with all involved parties, including vulnerable groups, is adjusted properly so that government policies meet the actual needs of families affected by poverty. Finally, evaluation criteria should be designed in order to ensure that the success of measures aimed at eradicating child poverty is appropriately measured.

Conclusion

Child poverty is a social issue that should be addressed through a national strategy. Inequality, in terms of the distribution of negative effects of poverty, e.g., among aboriginal children, is a particular aspect to be considered. Since child poverty is a threat to the future development of Canada, the government should provide social support to vulnerable groups. It will help stop the current upward trend in child poverty.

References

Adamson, P. (2012). Measuring child poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries. Web.

Albanese, P. (2015). Children in Canada today (2nd ed.). Don Mills, Canada: Oxford University Press.

Blomberg, H., Kroll, C., Kallio, J., & Erola, J. (2013). Social workers’ perceptions of the causes of poverty in the Nordic countries. Journal of European Social Policy, 23(1), 68-82.

De Boer, K., Rothwell, D. W., & Lee, C. (2013). Child and family poverty in Canada: Implications for child welfare research. Canadian Child Welfare Research Information Sheet, 123(1), 1-5.

Smith-Carrier, T., & Lawlor, A. (2017). Realising our (neoliberal) potential? A critical discourse analysis of the poverty reduction strategy in Ontario, Canada. Critical Social Policy, 37(1), 105-127.

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