By Betty Ann Adam, Saskatoon StarPhoenix
See original article here.
The Saskatchewan government’s new poverty reduction plan doesn’t deserve to be called a strategy, says social justice advocate Dr. Ryan Meili.
“If you look at what constitutes a poverty reduction strategy, if you look at experts in the field and what they say has to be in there, we don’t have one,” he said.
The government says it aims to reduce the number of people who experience poverty for two years or more by 50 per cent by the end of 2025.
What that really means is reducing poverty overall by only 25 per cent, Meili said.
That’s because half of all people in poverty have been so for two years or more, he said. The government is not including those who’ve fallen below the line in recent years.
Meili was part of an 11-member committee formed by the province that released recommendations to the government in August after months of research. Community organizations and five government ministries advised improvements to programs related to income security, homelessness, early childhood development, education and employment, health and food security and help for vulnerable families.
In spring 2014, Meili was part of the Poverty Costs campaign that calculated the cost of poverty to the Saskatchewan economy at $3.8 billion per year.
Last year, Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer told the advisory group to maintain Saskatchewan’s positive pace of poverty reduction, but the new plan slows the rate, Meili said.
In 2015, the advisory group calculated a poverty reduction trajectory and found that if Saskatchewan maintained its then-current pace of reduction, “we would see poverty drop to 50 per cent of the current rate within five years. So from about 10 per cent of the population living in poverty, to about five per cent,” he said.
“What they’ve come back with (a 25 per cent drop within nine years) is a goal that is much weaker.”
The government is taking a ‘laissez faire’ approach to poverty reduction, saying that poor economic conditions caused by low resource prices hamper its ability to reduce poverty, he said.
Its knee-jerk reaction to “go into austerity mode and not spend” ignores studies of governments around the world which show that social investment begets resilience, Meili added.
“Your economy bounces back faster and you have fewer problems in that difficult period.”
Quebec and Newfoundland, which have implemented evidence-based plans with regular measurements of progress, have seen big drops in their poverty, he said. Jurisdictions where austerity measures were implemented, however, saw significant decreases in population health, then and after, he added.
The plan to redesign the provincial income assistance programs to better match benefits and services with what people need will help to improve people’s experience, but “they will do nothing to reach even this modest goal. They’re just not of the magnitude required to continue to reduce poverty,” Meili said.
“Not only is the goal weak but they don’t have the power of interventions that could help to get us to that goal.”
Twenty of the 36 pages in the document outline work already being done in the province and there are no targets set in the 21 short-term goals.
Sixteen of the government’s goals are considered long-term future directions for when, as the strategy reads, “the Province’s fiscal capacity allows for it.”
— with Leader-Post files from D.C. Fraser