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Federal budget must tackle child and seniors’ poverty

By Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents 3.3 million workers in Canada

Today it is shameful that more than 1.3 million Canadian children, and more than half a million seniors live in poverty.

After a lifetime of hard work, no one should have to retire in poverty. But the poverty rate among seniors has been rising since the mid 1990s, and is even higher for racialized seniors and single seniors. The poverty rate for single, senior women is nearly 30 per cent.

The combination of inadequate pensions and rising cost of living has created a devastating situation in which too many seniors are being asked to make impossible choices – Do I work as long as humanly possible, or be forced to move into substandard housing? Do I pay my electrical bill even if it means not being able to afford my medications?

Tuesday’s federal budget  is a key opportunity for our government to begin to turn things around for seniors.

Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) levels have fallen significantly from when they were established, relative to median income. The seniors of tomorrow need to see an expanded Canada Pension Plan. But in the short term, increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for single, low-income seniors by 10 per cent, as promised in the last election, would be a significant move to help address seniors’ poverty.

Likewise, there is much our government can do to lift Canadian children out of poverty. UNICEF’s latest report on child wellbeing ranked Canada at 17 out of 29 nations on measures including material wellbeing, health and safety, and housing. We can no longer accept the status quo, in which over 300,000 children rely on food banks each month, in which 40 per cent of Indigenous children live in poverty.

The government’s proposed changes to child benefits will better target payments to the low- and modest-income families who need it most, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Because the simple reality is that children live in poverty because their families live in poverty.

The federal government needs to develop a National Anti-Poverty Strategy tackling the many causes of child poverty, including persistent unemployment, the proliferation of insecure jobs, and stagnant wages.

During the election the government committed to other measures that will help children in poverty by supporting their families. A key step is fixing Employment Insurance to ensure more unemployed workers in need can access benefits more quickly. Creating jobs through infrastructure and other strategic investments, and improving access to child care are other ways our government can begin to lift children, and their families, above the poverty line.

Last October, the Liberals were elected precisely because they recognized our nation’s precarious economic picture and promised to be bold in addressing it. On Tuesday, I look forward to seeing that bold action. Canada has more than enough fiscal room for it, and the future of far too many children and seniors relies on it.


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