Child Poverty is family poverty

Stephen LaFrenie

Children are poor because the parents are poor and I know this is obvious to everyone. Child poverty is a vital issue but many of the cures lie in provincial jurisdictions. Social services and minimum wage standards are set independently by the provinces. Is there a way the Federal Government can assume these two responsibilities in order to stabilize the standard of minimum social assistance and labour standards? So we help children by helping parents on a national level. The main question that feeds this line of thinking is this. Would the Provinces really object to the Federal Government taking over these two responsibilities? The Federal government takes over these payments and makes the adjustments in the provincial transfer payments.

Minimum wage and minimum social assistance are directly connected. The reason it is hard for people to decide between the two is because they are both well below the poverty line which doesn't actually help anyone. There must be a difference between the two levels. The concept of a guaranteed minimum/annual income is necessary. I think the Guaranteed Annual Income concept has been over intellectualized, spreading it throughout all income levels for no other reason than a pale, semantic argument over equality and fairness. Canadians accept the concept of sharing tax wealth with the poorest within society. So giving money to one group and not another is neither alien nor considered unfair.

To this end I think we should seek a way of leveling the playing field nationwide. Minimum wage should not be based on the minimum to live. It should be based on a reasonable minimum wage to prevent someone from ending up on social assistance. So we should determine the minimum standard of living and work up from there. For example let's agree for the sake of argument that the minimum level to providing shelter, food, and clothing for oneself is $10,000.00 per year. The provincial share would be the health and drug benefits for recipients as in the present system. Now it may be easier to live in one community in Canada on $10,000.00 than another but this should not result in penalizing the poor. The difference is actually marginal and may even help stop the exodus from smaller communities to larger cities. Keep in mind the other Green Party policies on strengthening smaller communities so we can't look at this solution in complete isolation. We can make this a fair distribution by making it the minimum tax level as well. This becomes your guaranteed minimum personal income tax exemption level for working people. Everyone keeps the first $10,000.00 of income they earn. The progressive tax structure begins at the minimum wage level.

The minimum wage could then be $10.00/hr. With this amount you are still earning more than on social assistance even with a part-time job and so the incentive to find a job is there. We balance the extra wage requirements on small business employers by reducing the level of federal payroll taxes. We might even reduce these payroll taxes further and require employers to provide benefit packages. At present employers do not have to pay benefits on part time staff. So their expenses may stay roughly the same but the overall benefit to workers and society is greater. Part time jobs are becoming more and more frequent and we should always be looking at creating the environment for secure full time jobs but we have to deal with the present reality.

Let’s consider single parent families. Remove the concept of punishment presently practiced by the provincial governments. Rather than clawing back the money earned on a part-time minimum wage job, which keeps them at a social assistance level we allow them to keep it. This means single parents with one child on social assistance and one part-time job have an annual income of around $23,000.00. They are paying minimum taxes on $13,000.00 depending on what other tax deductions/credits reduce this down. Their social assistance ends with them finding another part-time job or a full-time job. This would also create the ability of a single parent family choosing to remain in a smaller community rather than having to leave to a larger centre because with this system it would be possible to live decently and provide minimum care. Removing this stress allows them to consider their future clearly rather than out of fear and desperation. Stress is the number one factor in general health. Reducing the sense of desperation that single parents, especially women, goes a long way to reducing health and social costs. It also provides for more stable, safe environments for children to grow up in. No one wants to stay at low wages, especially with a family, so they will always be looking for better jobs. The myth of a ‘free loader’ culture has already been busted and I think we need to fight it. No one is going to quit a $30,000.00 job to live at the poverty level.

We also remove the punishment of deducting from the social assistance cheques of people who share households. When my two sisters were on social assistance in Ontario they couldn't survive with their kids on their own so they moved in together. Social assistance was cut from their cheques for living communally. This cut was so drastic they had to move out because they were worse off than before. This was punishment for punishment sake and a reprehensible attitude on the part of the Provincial government. Consider that if two working people can move in together and share resources then why not those at the poorest levels. Again there is relief in people doing this not an upgrade to a life of leisure. I'll give you another reason for this rationale of leveling the playing field nationally. When I was younger living in Vancouver around 1977 or 78 the government changed to the Social Credit who vowed as Harris did in 1995 to cut social assistance. I had a friend who had a little boy. She told me that she was leaving BC to move back to her hometown because she felt she wouldn't be able to make it in Vancouver on the lower level of assistance because she was barely making it on the present level. She had to give up her home and leave the province. I thought this was shameful. Poor people need to be protected from the likes of Mike Harris and his ilk. A Canadian citizen should have the right to live anywhere in Canada they choose. Income and social status should never be a consideration that prevents the freedom of movement within the country.

Right now the Provinces have the right within their jurisdictions to claw back any benefits the federal government gives to families. The Ontario provincial liberals proved they were not above this tactic. This renders any discussion moot without achieving an enforceable agreement similar to the Health Act with the provinces to allow for direct federal assistance. Otherwise the Green Party is just spinning its wheels.
Combine these ideas with the affordable housing ideas. Subsidized housing which allows, for the sake of argument, a formula of 25% of total household income. This would place a single mother with one child receiving a guaranteed income along with one part time job earning the $23,000.00 annual income mentioned above in a situation where she is only paying $5,750.00 for safe shelter. At present low income people are struggling with rents amounting to $8,000.00 - $12,000.00 per year in many cities. A person now earning $23,000.00 per year is paying 40% - 50% of their income just on shelter with little security in many jurisdictions.

This blog reflects my personal opinion.
It is not official Green Party Policy.