Manitoba child poverty rate highest among provinces

·3 min read

Over 30 years ago Parliament passed a unanimous resolution to end child poverty in Canada by 2000.

For Alexandra Lewis, a single mom with three children living in Winnipeg's West End, the promise is unmet.

"I collect EIA and I have three children and we are constantly needing to attend food banks (or) we wouldn't make it."

A new report titled Manitoba: Missed Opportunities, released in December by the national anti-poverty group Campaign 2000, says the 28.4 percent rate of Manitoba children living in poverty is the highest among provinces and almost identical to 1989 when the motion to eliminate child poverty was passed in Ottawa.

"Insecure, unaffordable or overcrowded housing, lack of suitable and nutritious food and/or inadequate clothing are daily realities for 88,840 children in Manitoba," reads the report.

It says poverty is the reality for more than one in four Manitoba children under 18 and one in three under six. In the federal riding of Winnipeg Centre, which includes Lewis' home, the rate is 40 percent—third highest in the country and highest among urban ridings. Indigenous children are especially impacted in Manitoba, with an on-reserve poverty rate of 65 percent and off-reserve rate of 53 percent, based on 2016 Statistics Canada numbers.

Lewis, a student who collects $1,500 per month in EIA and pays $1,100 for rent, says poverty is hard to escape.

"With the increase in groceries and rent, the increase cost of living, versus no increase for EIA or minimum wage, it makes it virtually impossible to rise above the poverty line," she says.

The Campaign 2000 Manitoba report, led by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg (SPCW), includes 24 recommendations, most of which are aimed at the Province of Manitoba.

"The province has a lot of work to do," said SPCW's Josh Brandon.

Recommendations include increasing minimum wage from $11.95 to $16.15, creating 300 new social housing units annually, increasing Rent Assist to a median market rent maximum and creating 17,000 subsidized childcare spaces that are free for families in poverty. A new bilateral federal-provincial agreement aims to provide $10 a day child care.

"For families living in poverty, that still may be out of reach," Brandon said.

Lewis pays $60 a month for subsidized childcare for her youngest daughter, three-year-old Gabrielle, which she says is still hard to pull together.

" It's a joke to think that putting it to $10 (a day) would be beneficial for people that are working on minimum wage," she says.

When asked at a media scrum what the province is doing to tackle child poverty, Minister of Families Rochelle Squires cited their strategy to reduce the child poverty rate by 25 percent from 2015 levels by 2025.

"Our government is committed to achieving that goal. We do know that more needs to be done," Squires said.

Brandon says the province's 25 percent target is not a real target as it was already reached when it was hatched thanks to the introduction of Rent Assist in 2015 and the Canada Child Benefit in 2016. In the past two years, however, he says the child poverty rate has been worsening.

He calls child poverty a "scar on society" that can be removed.

"We need serious commitment and investment from all levels of government, including the province...we have all the resources to eliminate child poverty."

Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf

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