Toronto Star

October 15, 1999

Child Poverty: How kids are faring

40% rate far above national average

By Bruce DeMara
Toronto Star City Hall Bureau

Almost 40 per cent of children in Toronto live in poverty, far above the national average and that of the four neighbouring regions in the GTA, a report has found.

The study released yesterday was compiled by a number of city agencies, school boards and children's aid societies over the past 18 months and shows the city and senior levels of government need to take urgent action, said Councillor Pam McConnell (Don River).

``It took 18 months . . . to put this wonderful report card on children. It's wonderful because it's here; it's terrible because of what it says to us,'' said McConnell, who chairs the children and youth action policy committee.

The report should be a ``a wake-up call to . . . City of Toronto councillors, but also to the Province of Ontario and to the federal government,'' said Downtown Councillor Olivia Chow, the city's child and youth advocate.

Statistics Canada defines poverty as a situation in which a family spends more than 54.7 per cent of its gross income on food, shelter and clothing. The low-income cut-off for a family of four in Toronto is $32,759.

The report found 38 per cent of children under 10 living in poverty, an increase of 66 per cent since 1991.

That compares to a 20 per cent national average, 14 per cent in Durham Region, 11 per cent in Halton, 19 per cent in Peel and 14 per cent in York.

Among the report's findings:

McConnell said much of the blame for the increasing poverty of Toronto families resulted from the province's decision in 1995 to reduce welfare rates by more than 21 per cent.

``The reduction in welfare has significantly impacted our families and our children that are living in welfare,'' she said.

Community services spokesperson Petr Varmuza noted that 2,000 of the city's 35,000 licensed day-care spaces are empty because families can receive provincial subsidies or the centres are too expensive.

Toronto board trustee Judi Codd said more than half of all child-care spaces are located in schools but the province doesn't provide any funding to operate them. At the same time, the province is demanding school boards reduce operating costs further, she added.

``At some point, we won't be able to (continue to operate child-care centres),'' she said.

The province has recently admitted that its workfare program aimed at getting single mothers with children off welfare won't work unless child-care spaces are expanded dramatically, Chow said.

But she noted Premier Mike Harris is still reluctant to open provincial coffers.

``He keeps talking about informal care . . . The Premier has to . . . invest in child care, not just babysitting money.''

The city will need to spend an additional $10 million in the coming year to address some of the needs of children, Chow and McConnell said.

The recommendations include creating 2,000 more child-care spaces each year for the next three years to reduce the waiting list by half and creating housing in the coming year aimed at sheltering 200 children and their families.

``We made a pact with our citizenry that children were our first duty,'' McConnell said, ``and our budget, our own budget, needs to reflect that commitment.''

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