Wednesday, July 05, 2006


The one with the rant about the child care allowance

Starting this month, the Canadian government will be doling out the cheques for the new Universal Child Care Benefit. That’s the $100-a-month credit, for each child under age six, that the Tory government seems to think gives families some sort of ‘choice in child care.’ Right.

I have to be careful here. The prime minister is my boss, and I don’t think it’s too clever to crap where I sleep, so to speak. So read these words not as written as a civil servant, but as ranted by a working mom of two preschool boys.

I’ve always thought that the $100 Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) allowance is nothing but a practically meaningless token amount. And it annoys the hell out of me that it is so inequitable. Because the benefit will be taxable to the lowest income earner, a single parent family, a two-income family, and a two-parent-single-income family will all get different amounts.

After taking into account the income tax that will have to be paid, and the elimination of the former low-earner supplement to the Child Tax Benefit, of the original $1200 per year you will only be able to keep:

$641 if you are a two-income family earning $40K a year;

$768 if you are a single parent with an income of $20K a year;

$951 if you are on welfare; and,

$971 if you are a one-income family earning $250K a year.

(See the Caledon Institute’s excellent essay for a detailed analysis. I took these figures from their report.)

Isn’t that lovely? The upper-class one-income family, which most likely does not even use child care, gets more than $200 a year more in net benefits, per child, than a working poor single parent.

And then, as if that weren’t a bitter enough pill to swallow, the media this weekend reported that childcare centres across the country are hiking day care fees just in time to benefit from the new allowance to parents. Some centres are hiking fees by as much as $75 a month, which leaves parents with a net deficit at the end of the month. One daycare centre operator wrote a letter to parents, saying, “[the daycare centre] would like to be a part recipient of those funds which are to be used for day-care purposes.”

This isn’t about, never was about, should not be about working parents versus stay-at-home parents. If the government wants to hand out this half-assed, poorly planned reward to the voters who were naïve enough to elect them, fair enough. Call it the “thanks for electing us” benefit, then. To their credit, they did change the name of the credit from the Choice in Child Care Allowance to the Universal Child Care Benefit, which is only mildly instead of completely patronizing and insulting. Because it’s far from universal, and has little or nothing to do with child care.

If the government wants to make a meaningful financial contribution to the families who are paying for child care, they should consider changing the tax laws so the highest income earner in the family can deduct the child care expenses, for starters. And then they should go back to the drawing board to find a real way to make child care accessible, reliable and truly universal. We’ve got a long way to go.