By MARILLA STEPHENSON
They usually preach from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but last week two public policy think-tanks found themselves on the same page over the impact of child poverty.
The methods they are advocating to reduce those impacts may differ, but there is common ground on the issue between the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a regional right-wing think-tank and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which leans hard to the left.
Studies released by the two groups tackled the issue of poverty and the impact it will have on the futures of children who grow up under its wrath. Improved economic prosperity for the province as a whole, with better outcomes for children who are prepared for the labour market, is a critical target for both groups.
“As well as being a moral and human rights-based response to the poverty of the most vulnerable amongst us, it is also an argument for social investment in the future of our province,” says the centre’s 2010 report card on child poverty, which covers 1989 to 2008.
“Action on child poverty, achieved through action on family poverty, will have a lasting impact on all Nova Scotians.”
The report says there was a downward trend in child poverty between 2003 and 2008, but that 14,000 Nova Scotia children still live in poverty. The group notes the report does not include the impact the economic recession of the past two years has had.
The centre wants the provincial government to do more to help chronically disadvantaged groups and has called on the Dexter government to set targets and objectives that are more easily measured.
“Living in poverty not only means that children lack their basic materials needs, they also lack opportunities, often suffer from the stigma of being poor and are more likely to live in poor quality housing, which in turn can have a direct effect on health and educational success,” says the report.
“It is important to focus our attention on what is happening to our children during their developmental and thus most vulnerable years.
That is where the very common ground between the two groups comes into play. The centre’s report goes on to call for enhanced tax transfers for those living in poverty, along with higher welfare payments and minimum wage levels, and tax policy aimed at reducing the gap between rich and poor.
The institute, predictably, has taken a different approach.
The think-tank released a report last week calling for targeted subsidies for families with children in daycare. The report, titled See Dick Grow Old, See Jane Retire, calls for the poorest families to receive fully subsidized daycare to provide a nurturing environment for children while enabling parents to participate in the workforce.
“While many of the benefits generated by access to child care are enjoyed directly by the parents and children involved, broader society also enjoys positive externalities in terms of a more productive workforce, a larger tax base and reduced long-term societal costs for welfare, health care and correctional services when early childhood programs are successful in improving the school-readiness of disadvantaged and at-risk children,” says the report.
The approaches are different, the goals are similar: reducing the numbers of children who live in poverty.
Surely reduced dependence on generational welfare starts with supported education, not only for adults in need of job training, but also their young children who may require help to be successful in school.
Both policies need public investment that will benefit society as a whole. My vote goes to an approach that is focused on education. It has always been, and will always be, the fast road out of poverty.
Starting when the children are young makes a whole lot of sense.