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Ending universal child benefits could lift 174,000 kids out of poverty: group

In 2005, singer songwriter Tom Cochrane presentsed thousands of petitions calling on the Canadian government to end child poverty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson

TORONTO - Ottawa should eliminate some cash payments and child tax benefits and credits offered to Canadian parents and instead direct the money to the lowest-income families, an anti-poverty coalition said in a report released Wednesday.

Campaign 2000 said the government should nix the child tax credit, the child fitness tax credit and the universal child care benefit and put the money towards the national children's benefit for families earning up to $42,700 a year.

If Ottawa also kicked in another $174 million per year, the group said the child poverty rate would drop 15 per cent and about 174,000 kids would be lifted out of poverty.

"The concept was very much that in order to make an impact on poverty a little more progressivity has to be introduced into the taxation system," said Sid Frankel, a University of Manitoba social work associate professor and Campaign 2000 committee member.

The current national child benefit supplement maximum is $3,485. With the additional funding from Ottawa, the maximum could be increased to $5,400, the group said.

"For many families it would mean higher quality food," Frankel said.

"For many families it would mean better housing and housing is a very important determinant on its own of health. For some families it might mean that children can become involved in activities that they otherwise couldn't become involved in...Some children would certainly be clothed better."

Coleen Turner, 45, a single mother with two dependent children, is one of those people making tough choices each month. She sometimes can't send her kids on field trips because the $18 is the difference between groceries and going hungry.

The Toronto-area mother works part time, earning a meagre $14,000 a year. She gets a little over $1,000 in social assistance and about $600 in child benefits each month.

After she pays $960 in rent her adult children who also live with her in the four-bedroom apartment contribute a few hundred dollars each month toward rent and other household bills, it leaves little for bus tickets, groceries and clothing for her children.

"It puts me in a really bad situation, financially," Turner said. "If they raised that amount it would help."

A spokeswoman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley defended the current child tax and benefit system.

"The Canada child tax benefit and the universal child care benefit help more than 3.5 million families," Alyson Queen said in the statement.

"Today, there are 225,000 fewer Canadian children in poverty compared to the last year that the Liberals were in power."

Opposition parties were quick to criticize the government for failing to address child and family poverty in Canada.

"Instead of taking action, they have opted to cut programs and services that help prevent poverty, such as Employment Insurance, frozen funding for affordable housing, and stood idly by as youth unemployment and student debt have reached record highs," said Rodger Cuzner, Liberal critic for human resources and skills development.

The NDP urged Ottawa to "put aside reckless ideology" and adopt Campaign 2000s recommendations.

"The government is touting an economic recovery yet one in seven children is still living in poverty," said NDP critic Chris Charlton.

"Their action plan has no action for children. Poverty reduction should be at the centre of any economic recovery plan."

Frankel said decreasing child poverty would also boost the economy as impoverished children are less likely to obtain higher education, and it would ease the strain on the health-care system.

"Unfortunately, children who grow up in poverty, their...morbidity for a whole range of diseases is higher in children and remains higher throughout the life cycle," he said.

"Research has found that even short spells of poverty in childhood are good predictors of disability in adulthood."

The House of Commons in 1989 unanimously resolved to end child poverty by 2000. At that time 13.7 per cent of children in Canada were living in poverty. In 2010 the most recent available data that number was 14.5 per cent.

"To me it's alarming that when we compare 1989 and 2010 we actually find the poverty rate among children higher," Frankel said.


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