Publications, opinions, and speeches
The National Child Benefit: Best Thing Since Medicare or New Poor Law?
Published on 01/09/1997
This paper, originally presented to the Eighth Conference on Canadian Social Welfare Policy held in Regina, assesses social groups’ criticisms of the National Child Benefit announced in the 1997 federal Budget. The child benefit reforms involve joint action on the part of the federal and provincial governments: The federal government will enrich and restructure the Child Tax Benefit/Working Income Supplement to create a Canada Child Tax Benefit in 1998. The provinces will be allowed to reduce their welfare expenditures on behalf of children by the amount of the increase in federal child benefits, although they have agreed to reinvest these savings in other programs for low-income families with children – such as income-tested child benefits (e.g., BC’s Family Bonus), wage supplements, social services (e.g., child care), extension of in-kind benefits available to welfare families (e.g., supplementary health care) to working poor families with children.
The paper discusses seven criticisms of the child benefit proposals – that they are unfair to the working poor; they are unfair to welfare families; the additional federal money is too little too late and so will have little impact on child poverty; Ottawa’s $850 million infusion is an inadequate down payment on a National Child Benefit; the new system will continue to be infected with the partial deindexation virus; it will result in an even more polyglot child benefits system with no national standards; and what we really need is a comprehensive approach to combat child poverty.
The paper concludes that, while social groups have every right to beware of governments bearing social policy gifts in the 1990s, they should not throw out the baby bonus with the bath water: The National Child Benefit does hold out the promise of major reform of child benefits, welfare and federal-provincial relations in social policy.
ISBN – 1-895796-80-6