Toronto Sun

October 21, 1999

Poverty statistics misleading

Sun Media

Forget the line that we have lies, damned lies and statistics. Now there are statistics, damned statistics and insults to our intelligence.

Witness a new report produced by a number of school boards, children's aid societies and social agencies claiming 38% of children in the Toronto area live in poverty. In the words of a great philosopher whose name escapes me, give me a break!

One child living in poverty is an obscenity, particularly in a country as wealthy as Canada. But the idea that more than a third of children in the country's largest city are in such a situation is, frankly, ludicrous.

The dictionary defines poverty as a state where someone "lacks the basic necessities of life." So in this case a child would be hungry, would be without the proper clothes, would have no home and no heat.

Some children do live like this. But very few.

When we look further at this tendentious study we find that those responsible believe poverty exists when a family spends more than 54.7% of its gross income on food, shelter and clothing.

Hold on just one minute. I have spent such amounts at various times in my married life. We only just made ends meet, but the kids never went without.

Naturally, the people behind the study are pushing for more breakfast programs. Yet anybody who has raised children will know how difficult it is to make kids eat anything for breakfast.

They nibble if they eat at all, far too busy making up excuses as to why they shouldn't be at school in the first place. Some children just don't have huge appetites in the morning. As for lunch, of course they eat something but they also come home with part of what you packed for them still in their bag.

The idea that Toronto and, by implication, Canadian schools are filled with rows of children who cannot pay attention because their stomachs are rumbling is pure fantasy. It costs very, very little to buy a box of cereal and a bag of milk each week, and if things are really that bad the food banks will help out.

Breakfast programs, however well meaning, are not the saviour of our children. And they are often taken advantage of - not by parents who are poor but by parents who are lazy. Why bother to provide breakfast at home when someone at the school will do it for you?

Of course there are poor children who need help. But this is more about the state once again assuming it has the right to be a parent. If a child is not fed with even a slice of bread in the morning, the mother or father should be charged with child abuse.

My father drove a taxi 70 hours a week so my mother could stay at home. We lived in an apartment in London's east end until we moved into our first house.

The mortgage took more than three decades to pay off, but my parents did it. None of my grandparents ever lived in a house or owned their own home.

My wife was the eldest of 15 children. Her father was a school principal who worked vacations so one parent would always be at home. Nobody was ever hungry.

Hard work. Hard workers. There weren't holidays abroad or the latest fashionable clothes but there was stability, order, love and certainty. Parental sacrifice was not debated, it was required. But then parenting does demand sacrifice. Mothers and fathers have to go without sometimes because they have decided to bring another human being into the world and owe those tiny lives everything. Nobody is forcing you to have kids.

Which brings us right back to the degree of child poverty in Toronto and, for that matter, anywhere in Canada. Of course there are poor children. But few.

The basic necessity of life many children really do lack is parental devotion.

There is no such thing as "quality time," that modernist nonsense invented to make people feel less guilty.

There is only "time." And time to feed your kids.

As for the survey, will the social activists please stop treating the rest of the population like fools?

Michael Coren is a Toronto-based writer and broadcaster
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