UNICEF Canada responds to federal budget 2018
TORONTO, 28 February 2018 – UNICEF Canada was pleased to see the Government of Canada take another step in the right direction with today’s release of the federal budget. David Morley, UNICEF Canada President and CEO, had the following response:
“For years, we have seen Canada’s children and youth falling behind their peers in other affluent nations. They are better educated but less healthy, experience more violence and are more unequal than their peers in countries with similar economic resources. The 2018 federal budget brings measures for more opportunity and fairness for children, but we must make bigger strides toward better outcomes.”
On the positive side of the ledger
Towards equity for Indigenous children
The budget takes a big step toward equitable services for First Nations children. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its Calls to Action, including a call to achieve parity in well-being outcomes for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children. A 2018 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling found that the federal government was failing to invest equitably in basic services for First Nations children. We are pleased to see the Government address the funding pressures facing child and family service agencies, while also increasing prevention resources for communities so that children are safe and families can stay together. Budget 2018 allocates more than $1.4 billion in new funding over six years for First Nations Child and Family Services to help vulnerable children remain safely in their families and communities. Children will also benefit from significant increases in budgets for drinking water, health care, employment and skills development, and indigenous for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations. Equitable funding for culturally-based services should show up in equitable outcomes in education, health and child welfare and close the wide gaps in child and youth rights and well-being.
We are pleased to see the Government propose $1.2 billion over five years to introduce a new EI Parental Sharing Benefit in June, 2019. The Benefit will provide five additional weeks of “use it or lose it” parental benefits, to a maximum of 40 weeks, if the secondary caregiver takes a minimum of five weeks. The benefit will cover 55 per cent of income. If a family opts for an 18 month leave, the secondary parent may take up to eight weeks of additional leave at 33 per cent of income. This is a welcome step to support a child’s attachment during a critical developmental period. However, this Benefit should be more accessible to low-income and job-insecure families with a higher rate of remuneration and easier access, similar to Quebec’s successful plan.
A national pharmacare program
A national pharmacare program that would reduce or eliminate the cost of prescription medications for children and their parents is a welcome step. Medications are a significant budget outlay for some families, reducing money available for investing in other needs and children’s opportunities. However, some of the most common chronic diseases among children, including asthma and diabetes, can be prevented rather than medicated by improving air quality and reducing poverty and food insecurity. These are missing from the budget. UNICEF Canada urges the Government of Canada to use its forthcoming national food policy and poverty reduction strategy to reduce Canada’s astronomical rates of child obesity and food insecurity. The budget announcement of $1.3 billion over three years to protect land and marine areas (and free admission to national parks for children) will help protect air and water quality and the ecosystems to support child health and well-being.
Missing from the ledger
Reducing child poverty
Canada is one of a handful of rich countries where income inequality has increased markedly in recent years. Mounting evidence suggests that limiting income inequality is key to doing better for all children, not just those falling farthest behind. Indexing the Child Benefit is a good step to shore up income inequality and meet children’s basic needs, but more investment is required. Continuing to build on the Canada Child Benefit to reduce child poverty by 50 per cent by 2020, and by 60 per cent by 2030 in line with what the best-performing countries do, would make a big difference toward better child well-being. Some children will benefit from the new Workers Benefit for low-income earners and a new rent support program as part of the national housing strategy announced in 2017.
Investing in children early
Family income is important to provide children with what they need to reach their full potential. But high-quality, universal public services are critical. Because inequalities in child well-being show up in the first few years of life, bending the cost curve to invest in early child developments is a better investment than remediating the costs of early disadvantage that are paid in education, health, child welfare and justice – by all Canadians. While all levels of government are building a national early-years framework, children will be best served by universal, quality programs that meet the 19 Early Childhood Education Report benchmarks and invest at least one per cent of GDP or six per cent of the annual budget in early child learning and care – by 2030. The investments of $100 million in early learning and child care innovation, and $95 million to close data gaps around what child care looks like in Canada, are not enough.
Making good policy for children
Children are a large population whose interests are often overlooked in government decision-making. The rate of child poverty is higher than for any other group in Canada because they have not been the highest priority. Children have the right to priority consideration because they are the most vulnerable group affected by public decisions. With one chance at a childhood, they can be disproportionately affected by deprivation or adverse conditions. All levels of government should use Child Rights Impact Assessment in decision-making, as the federal budget has done from a gender lens. This will help achieve fairer and better outcomes for Canada’s children and would make policies better, much like the gender based analysis does. .
The establishment of a Center for Gender, Diversity, and Inclusive Statistics to promote gender-based policy analysis and a data hub to support good policy decisions should be paired with a similar centre to ensure public policies and other government decisions consider impacts on children and that we are making measurable progress to realize children’s rights and well-being.
Canada on the world stage
The increase in international assistance is also a welcome measure in this most challenging time for the world’s girls and boys. Amidst the horror of so many brutal and protracted crises, Canada can and must continue to lead the way on the global humanitarian and development stage. We share the Government of Canada’s commitment to innovative financing, private sector engagement and to empowering girls as an investment in a better future for all. A place, in the words of the Finance Minister, where every child has equal opportunities to achieve their dreams.