OTTAWA – Canadian food banks are wading into the hot political debate over how best the federal government can help families with kids: give them tax breaks, as the Conservatives are doing, or invest in regulated child care, as the NDP proposes.
In its annual HungerCount report, Food Banks Canada comes down squarely on the side of the NDP.
It says the use of food banks remains 25 per cent higher than it was before the devastating global recession in 2008 and that 37 per cent of those helped are children.
According to the report, almost half of the households helped are families with kids and nearly half of those are two-parent families.
Among other recommendations, the report says the federal government should replace “the current alphabet soup” of child tax benefits with a new child well-being benefit that targets the most vulnerable families.
And it calls on federal and provincial governments to invest in predictable, stable funding for affordable, regulated child care, enabling parents to enter or remain in the workforce.
The report comes just days after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a family tax package, which includes enhanced child tax benefits and income splitting — a measure economists say will benefit primarily wealthy couples with kids.
The Conservatives have said their plan will allow parents to choose what’s best for their kids and have disparaged the NDP’s proposal to invest $5 billion a year to create one million, $15-per-day child care spaces.
According to the HungerCount 2014 report, 841,191 people received food from a food bank in Canada last March, a month that is considered average for food bank use. That’s up one per cent over the same period last year and remains 25 per cent higher than in 2008.
While households with children are the biggest users of food banks, the report says food bank use among single, childless individuals has skyrocketed — to 43 per cent this year from 39 per cent in 2001.
It attributes that to the demise of well-paying, blue-collar jobs in the manufacturing sector, which used to provide good incomes for under-educated men in particular. Those jobs have been replaced by low-wage service sector jobs and inadequate social assistance, which has been bolstered for single parents while forcing single, childless Canadians into extreme poverty.
The report says “existing welfare bureaucracies” should be dismantled and replaced with a guaranteed basic income system.
And it recommends expanding eligibility for education and training programs offered through the Employment Insurance program.
It also calls on the federal government to invest in affordable housing.