Budget 2022 does not go far enough on child poverty

  • National Newswatch

More than one in six Canadian children live in poverty. Eradicating child poverty will only be possible if we improve income supports and services, and provide fair wages for low-income parents. Enacting child and family directed policies would demonstrate Canada's intent to stem child poverty. Yet essential income supports for low-income families with children, who were most severely and still impacted by the pandemic, are glaringly absent from Budget 2022.The government promised progress in light of the devastating results of social, economic and health inequities during the pandemic. Instead of building on pandemic supports, the Government of Canada has chosen to allow thousands of families to fall off the cliff. On May 7th all pandemic related income supports to individuals expired.  These included the lockdown benefit, the caregiving benefit and the sickness benefits. There will be no extension of pandemic income benefits, and no investments in permanent Employment Insurance (EI) reform that have been promised.  Children will be the worst affected by the loss of these supports.Despite this, the news in not all bad. Budget 2022 does make some important investments, including a dental program starting this year for all children under 12 and new investments for the implementation of Jordan's Principle to advance equitable services for First Nations Children. As well, planned investments in childcare and housing have the potential to help low-income families over time if designed appropriately. The government's commitment to poverty reduction through the National Poverty Reduction Strategy is laudable, while flawed in many regards.These proposed policies are worth-while, but children need targeted investments and supports now, rather than long-term programs where the benefits may trickle down to children.Budget 2022 also fails to address the collateral damage inflicted by former pandemic benefits the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) which triggered claw backs on previously existing income programs for low- and middle-income families and individuals. This meant that people receiving provincial supports through social or disability assistance and rent supplements received less from those programs after receiving pandemic benefits. Likewise, federal benefits such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for seniors and the Canada Child Benefit, were clawed back after filing taxes.To be clear, these claw backs are punitive and detrimental to poor Canadians that will hurt our children.Despite the reversal of GIS claw backs by the federal fiscal update for low-income seniors, anti-poverty groups have been calling for a full CERB amnesty for anyone living on low and moderate incomes.  This includes refunding all lost benefit amounts related to CERB/CRB receipt; ceasing pursuit of people living on low incomes for repayments of CERB/CRB; legislating the reinstatement of the CRB at the full $500 amount weekly until Employment Insurance is reformed; and ensuring social assistance adequacy through increased investments into the Canada Social Transfer, tied to adequacy standards and accountability mechanisms.Budget 2022 is a missed opportunity to support the over 1.3 million children living in poverty, and to address the devastating impacts of the pandemic on their mental health and overall well-being.And we have no excuses.Canada is a very wealthy nation with a booming economy, but according to UNICEF Canada, we rank in the bottom tier of all OECD countries on child well-being, spending on average 30% less on family-supportive polices and programs.Our wealth is not being converted into healthy, happy childhoods.Our children deserve a concerted effort to ensure their well-being and guarantee that no child grows up in poverty. We hoped that Budget 2022 would be the first step towards this effort. We are disappointed. If this government is truly committed to eradicating child poverty, it is time for serious reflection and soul searching on what it is willing to do for our children. A starting place would be to end punitive anti-poor claw backs through a CERB amnesty.The Hon. Rosemary Moodie is an independent Senator from Ontario and a member of the Senate's standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. She is a pediatrician and health systems expert with many decades of service to children and families in OntarioLeila Sarangi is the National Director of Campaign 2000: End Child and Family Poverty, a pan-Canadian coalition of over 120 organizations working to eradicate poverty and Director of Social Action with Family Service Toronto.Peter Wong is Chair, Community Paediatric Committee, Canadian Paediatric Society and Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Adjunct Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.