With today’s payout of increased baby bonuses to an estimated four million families, we’re reminded again of the difference between what’s equal and what’s equitable.
The expanded Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), enacted by the Government of Canada this spring, will result in significant retroactive payments today and regular monthly payouts moving forward to individual families. Under the adjusted program, the benefit for each child under six will be increased from $100 to $160 per month. Parents will also receive a new benefit of $60 a month for each child between the ages of 6 and 17.
According to the official benefit website, Increased Universal Child Care Benefit: “It doesn’t matter how much you make. Every family with children under 18 qualifies.”
And therein lies the problem.
Just as Alberta’s infamous 2005 prosperity bonus program – dubbed Ralph Bucks – this “universal” benefit will give a little to some rather than making a more focused decision which could address a prioritized, societal need related to childcare and early learning.
All families are not created equal and policies like the Universal Child Care Benefit fail to account for the needs of women and children who are struggling. And while the benefit is taxable, payments of $60 or $160 per month further exacerbate inequality: those for whom low income is an issue will still not have enough to afford childcare while other families will have more cash for the extras.
We agree with the open letter, A Smart Investment in our Future from the Early Child Development Funders Working Group and believe that a true investment in the expansion of high-quality early childhood programs would have far reaching benefits to Canada’s long-term prosperity by improving children’s language, literacy and math skills, and fostering school success. Not to mention, such a nationalized childcare program would support the labour participation of parents, particularly mothers thereby contributing to the labour force and reducing women’s vulnerabilities.
Each day at the YWCA we support low-income mothers for whom lack of access to high quality, developmentally appropriate and affordable childcare option is a significant burden. The UCCB, in lieu of a programmatic approach to childcare and early learning, marks a significant missed opportunity.
The path to equity requires more thoughtful policy. It’s more than a cheque.