Although the city faces major challenges regarding child care, the issue has been largely neglected.
As part of Torontoist’s election coverage, this week we’re focusing on important issues that haven’t received much attention during the campaign. Today, we look at child care.
Politicians are fond of invoking children as beacons of hope or reasons to make smart decisions for the future. “Children are our future,” says every politician, before kissing a baby.
But despite the political lip service paid to children, they’re not always treated as important from a policy perspective.
Consider child care, a major expense for young families. According to the 2011 census, Toronto is home to 350,000 children between the ages of 0 and 12. However, there are only 61,000 licensed child-care spaces, which means there are no spaces available for over 80 per cent of those children.
The spaces available are costly; on average, Ontarians pay more for childcare than people anywhere else in Canada. Because child care is such a crucial part of raising a family, the policy implications are extensive. According to a City report, many survey respondents said that if they did not receive child-care fee subsidies, they would not be in a position to work—the more financially prudent decision would be to stay at home and look after their kids.
But child-care fee subsidies are not widely available. There are 25,000, but according to City numbers from March, there are 17,000 low-income children on the waiting list.
This should not be an issue just for so-called bleeding heart politicians, either: there is persuasive evidence that increasing access to child-care spaces improves economic production and mobility, particularly for women, and—in conjunction with the right policies—can result in a net gain for everyone.
Some new policies are helping to offset the child-care issue. Full-day kindergarten, fully implemented as of September, alleviates some of the pressure—but it also highlights the need for after-school programs. Changes made to the Welcome Policy as part of the 2012 budget process have made it more difficult for low-income parents to find programming for kids after school. And City parks and recreation programs, which tend to be comparatively affordable, saw user fees shoot up over the past council term: user-fee revenue rose by 23 per cent between 2011 and 2013.
These issues do not exist in isolation. They’re affected, for example, by the high cost of housing: 43.5 per cent of Toronto renters in 2010 paid more than the advisable limit of 30 per cent of their income in rent. This lack of affordability pushes more individuals to the edges of the city, where living accommodations are cheaper, but transit options are significantly worse, and there are fewer employment opportunities.
To be fair, Olivia Chow has made such issues major planks of her campaign, although they have not gotten the attention they deserve.
Our wider political discussion needs to confront the real issues that affect the lived experiences of young families and build the political will to make sensible policy decisions a reality.
The next term of council will receive reports through the Community Development and Recreation Committee in 2015 and have to make serious decisions as it develops its Toronto Child Care Funding Model and Children’s Services 2015-2019 Service Plan. These decisions, if given the kind of attention they deserve, have the potential to make a much more meaningful impact on everyday lives than do political platitudes.