EDMONTON - The Alberta College of Social Workers, the Edmonton Social Planning Council, and Public Interest Alberta have jointly released a report on the state of child and family poverty in Alberta, Spotlight: Lessons on Child Poverty in a Pandemic.
Over 160,000 or 1 in 6 children experience the all-encompassing effects of childhood poverty in Alberta – a staggering statistic which has been made even more dire by the dramatic economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. This report highlights the communities most affected by systemic poverty and lack of access to support services such as Indigenous communities, immigrants and refugees, and families in rural environments. It details the effects of poverty on the development of children, including issues affecting mental health, educational attainment, employment, and housing throughout their lives up to adulthood.
Sandra Ngo, the Research Coordinator for the Edmonton Social Planning Council, explained the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on child poverty in Alberta.
“Unemployment in Alberta hit a record high of 15.7% in June 2020,” said Ngo. “It is clear that these bleak employment numbers have wreaked havoc on the ability for families to provide for their children. This is demonstrated in the significant increase in food insecurity during the pandemic due in part to job loss, reduced work hours, and impacts on income. Canadians living with children have felt the effects of COVID-19 even more so: food insecurity rose by 7% to a staggering 19.6% in households with children at the onset of the pandemic. That’s nearly 1 in 5 Canadians who can’t always afford healthy nutritious food for themselves and their families.”
“However, the state of child and family poverty is not solely due to the pandemic,” Ngo added. “If anything, this crisis is shining a spotlight on already-existing problems. COVID-19 has exposed deficits in how our society has cared for the most vulnerable to poverty.”
Ajay Hartenfeld Pandhi, President of the Alberta College of Social Workers, called for the reduction of child poverty to be front and centre as the government plans for the economic recovery in a post-COVID world.
“As both the federal and provincial governments make plans for an economic recovery, they need to remember that implementing strategies to end child poverty is an investment into healthier families and communities, not a cost,” said Pandhi. “We know that without equitable, public services and supports available for all children in Alberta, there will continue to be generational impacts of childhood poverty. Investing upstream in poverty reduction mitigates downstream costs and is good for all of us.”
Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, warned of the cuts the provincial government has made which have exacerbated the issue of child and family poverty.
“The pandemic has shown how critical a robust network of well-funded public services are for all Albertans,” said French. “Without our essential public health care system and income supports, it would have been impossible for many Albertans to keep their head above water. However, decisions like the minimum wage freeze, massive layoffs, cuts to supports like AISH, and cutting dependents off seniors’ drug coverage have made an already-dire situation even worse.”
“One of the lessons of this report is that Alberta does not raise enough revenue to properly and sustainably fund our essential public services and social supports,” added French. “If Alberta adopted the tax system of any other province, we would raise between $14.4 to $25.5 billion more per year in revenue. The provincial government needs to make some significant changes so that everyone in Alberta has the ability to not only survive, but thrive.”