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Manitoba's child poverty an 'appalling' 20 per cent

One in five Manitoba children continues to live in poverty despite a much-ballyhooed NDP government strategy -- announced more than three years ago -- to reduce it.

When it comes to child poverty, only Prince Edward Island has a higher rate in Canada, at 22.5 per cent, to Manitoba's 20.9 per cent, the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg said in a report Thursday. The national average is 14.5 per cent.

Meanwhile in real terms, social assistance rates in Manitoba are below what they were in 1992, when Gary Filmon's Conservatives were in power, the report said.

"Across Canada, fewer children live in poverty than five years ago, but in Manitoba 5,000 more children live in poverty than in 2005," the report said.

In May 2009, the NDP government announced a broad poverty reduction and social-inclusion strategy called All Aboard.

Sid Frankel, a University of Manitoba social work professor, said the strategy has produced good programs, but "the numbers don't lie."

"Surely a poverty-reduction policy should reduce poverty. We're concerned," said Frankel, a former planning council board member.

The planning council uses an instrument called the Low Income Measure (LIM) for measuring poverty. In 2010, LIM categorized a family of four with an after-tax income less than $38,322 as poor.

The Selinger government said it uses a different measuring stick called the Market Basket Measure, which estimates the cost of a specific basket of goods and services, including food, clothing, footwear, shelter, transportation and other necessary goods and services. It said that's superior to LIM, which does not take into consideration differences in living costs across Canada.

Under the government's own measure, Manitoba has the fifth lowest child poverty rate in Canada and the second lowest overall poverty rate.

"Through the measurements we have we can demonstrate that there has been a decrease (in child poverty in Manitoba)," said Kerri Irvin-Ross, the cabinet minister responsible for the All Aboard strategy. She admitted, however, that the government has "a lot of work left to do."

But the Opposition Progressive Conservatives said the Social Planning Council report indicates the Selinger government is failing Manitoba's poor.

"We know that the number of children who are using food banks has increased. We know that the number of families that are in poverty has increased," family services critic Leanne Rowat (Riding Mountain) said Thursday.

The planning council held its news conference at Winnipeg Harvest, the province's largest food bank. A few dozen people attended, including social activists, past and current recipients of social assistance and Liberal Senator Art Eggleton from Ontario.

Eggleton called Manitoba's 20 per cent child poverty rate "appalling." He also said the country as a whole has nothing to be proud of in that regard.

In a recent United Nations report, Canada ranked 24th among 35 countries in the developed world in dealing with child poverty, he said.

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