The Newfoundland government has also been proactive in implementing a poverty reduction strategy. In 2006, after extensive community consultation, the Progressive Conservative Government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, Reducing Poverty: An Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador, was passed unanimously, making Newfoundland and Labrador the second province in Canada to adopt a poverty reduction strategy.
The Newfoundland case is particularly interesting from a BC perspective because BC and Newfoundland shared the unwelcome distinction of having the highest rates in Canada until the government of Newfoundland and Labrador chose to address it unlike the BC government. In 2014, Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest poverty rate in the country. The 2016 budget announced massive “expenditure reductions” in the hopes of balancing the budget. Simply put, it is cutting back or “restructuring” multiple programs.
The central goal of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s commitment to poverty reduction is simple: to transform Newfoundland and Labrador from the Canadian province with the most poverty to the one with the least by 2014. Five specific goals were outlined in the 2006 Action Plan:
- Improve access to services for people with low income
- Develop a stronger social safety net?
- Improve earned incomes?
- Increase emphasis on the need for early childhood development
- Work toward having a better educated population
Progress towards a stronger social safety net includes increased support for persons with disabilities, enhanced accessibility to the justice system, and further development of social housing. Newfoundland now provides among the highest social assistance benefit rates in the country and, in 2007, became the first province in Canada to index welfare rates to inflation.The province has demonstrated its commitment to reducing poverty by making significant investments in its poverty reduction strategy.
- In 2013, the provincial government implemented a 10-year Child Care Strategy.
- The incidence of low-income in the province decreased from 12% in 2004 to 7% in 2009
- The depth of poverty, or average low-income gap, became the lowest in the country.
The Newfoundland and Labrador case is particularly interesting from a BC perspective because BC and Newfoundland shared the unwelcome distinction of having the highest rates of poverty in Canada until the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador chose to address it with their poverty reduction plan. In 2014, Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest poverty rate in the country. One of the most important changes was that they set welfare rates for single parents at the poverty line, whereas BC welfare rate still puts recipients more than $10,000 year below that line.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Poverty Reduction Strategy does not address poverty as a human rights issue. There does not appear to have been any further effort to frame the issue as protection and guarantee of basic human rights. The strategy has also come under fire for its conception of “poverty;” critics disapprove of forcing a labour market focus onto social welfare programs. Critics argue that this unfairly distinguishes between “deserving” and “undeserving poor” based on ability to work.