Universal child care makes economic and social sense


For many in Canada – especially single mothers – a lack of affordable child care means a continuing cycle of poverty. With skyrocketing costs, especially in metro areas like Toronto and Vancouver, and a lack of available spaces, it makes more sense for many adults, often represented by women in a household, to remain at home with children rather than re-enter the workforce.

Last week, the argument for Canada to introduce universal child care became even more compelling when the Conference Board of Canada released a new report on the economic impacts of child care, illustrating that every $1 spent on child care results in $6 of economic benefit down the road.

The Conference Board report, and information from Statistics Canada, demonstrate that the positive economic impact of accessible child care ranges from providing younger children with beneficial social learning as well as freeing up parents to work, which can result in both increases to a family’s income or ability to pay off debt.

How Canada fares compared to other countries

The difference is particularly clear when comparing Québec – which has a provincial affordable child care framework in place with a cost of $7 per day – to other provinces and territories. Québec implemented its subsidized program in 1997 and over the next two decades work force participation rate for women in the 20 to 44 age cohort increased from 76 to 85 per cent.

The report also highlighted how Canada is falling behind its peers on funding for early childhood education and care. Canada Without Poverty’s (CWP) submission to the Universal Periodic Review, submitted in partnership with 11 organizations and endorsed by 12 organizations, similarly highlighted that Canada’s public support for young children and their families is the weakest among the world’s rich countries at only 0.25% of GDP – about one-third the OECD average of 0.7%.

In fact, Canada spends less on social infrastructure and programs than many of its OECD peers, despite having the 10th highest GDP in the world – with federal government social spending as a share of GDP at its lowest rate since 1949.

These spending gaps are evident when we look at the rapidly increasing rates of child and infant care across the country, with the exception of Québec. Families in Toronto face a median monthly cost for infant care of $1,649, compared to the $164 for the same services in Montréal. Similarly, preschool costs in Ontario cities including Toronto and Markham are $1,000 or more, compared to $174 in many Québec cities.

What will the Canada Child Benefit mean for access to affordable child care?

The government’s recent announcement that they intend to index the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) to keep up with increasing living costs earlier than originally anticipated, while applauded by CWP and other anti-poverty organizations across the country for its impact on families living in poverty, has also led to some concerns that the benefit might become a stand-in by the federal government in lieu of developing and implementing a national child care framework.

As Morna Ballantyne, Executive Director of Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada said in response to the announcement, “[a]ll the evidence shows that cash payments to parents will not make child care services any more accessible and will not resolve the child care crisis that is putting children, families and economic growth at risk. The only way governments can meet those objectives is to create a sufficient number of quality spaces and fund their ongoing operation.”

CWP has called for the CCB to be implemented alongside a plan for universal and publicly-funded child care, as well as recommending as publicly-managed early childhood education and care programme for children to be phased in by 2020 as part of the Dignity for All model anti-poverty plan. With the waiting list for subsidized child care spots in Toronto at over 14,000 and care costs across the country reaching record heights, we need a comprehensive plan to create new, affordable resources for all families in Canada.

Creating a comprehensive child care plan would also increase work force participation for women and families, supporting them to get out of poverty – something Canada has signed on to do by 2030 through the Sustainable Development Goals.

In a recent article, Kate McInturff from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said it best about the impact of the CCB for families in need of childcare, “[a]n extra $91 a year is going to do little for a family paying $1000 a month or more for childcare. . . Here again the government seems not to have learned the lesson of its own success with respect to its 2015 election platform: Set ambitious goals. Commit to them.” 

Laura Neidhart is the Development and Communications Coordinator for Canada Without Poverty.