Group urges feds to end universal child tax benefits
The Centennial Flame burns on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 3, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012 5:21AM EST
TORONTO -- Ottawa should eliminate child tax benefits and credits to most Canadian parents and instead direct the money to the lowest-income families, an anti-poverty coalition recommends in a report released Wednesday.
If the child tax benefit, the child fitness tax credit and the universal child care benefit were nixed and the money went towards a child benefit supplement for families making less than $25,000 a year, about 174,000 kids would be lifted out of poverty, Campaign 2000 says.
"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 child benefit supplement maximum is $3,485. If the federal government eliminated several tax credits for families above the poverty line and if Ottawa also kicked in another $174 million per year, the maximum could be increased to $5,400, the group says.
"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 the Ministry of Finance said the department does not comment on third-party proposals.
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, Frankel said.
"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.