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We have one of the highest poverty rates in Canada, yet we are now the only province left with no poverty reduction plan!
Why does BC need a plan?
- Despite being one of the wealthiest provinces in the country, 12.0% of the population, that’s 557,000 British Columbians, live in poverty using the Market Basket Measure.
- BC’s child poverty rate is 1 in 5 (more in First Call’s Child Poverty Report Card)
- Most poor people are working, and about a third of BC’s poor children live in families where at least one parent has a full-time job
- In March 2016, over 100,000 people in BC used food banks, and almost a third of them were children.
- Poverty reduction is a sound investment for our province.
British Columbia has high income inequality, low minimum wages and social assistance supports, and long waitlists for childcare and health services. The housing market is becoming increasingly more expensive and unattainable for people living in poverty. Something needs to be done.
The approximate cost of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan in British Columbia per year is $3-4 billion dollars while the approximate annual cost of doing nothing is $8-9 billion. Ending poverty in British Columbia would require upfront investment and a strong commitment to addressing the various manifestations of poverty.
After years of work and consultations among community stakeholders across the Northwest Territories, the government approved Building on the Strengths of Northerners: A Strategic Framework toward the Elimination of Poverty in the NWT in 2013. In 2014, the Strategic Framework gave way to a more proactive action plan with the Government of the Northwest Territories Anti-Poverty Action Plan.
The Government of the Northwest Territories has stated that it considers the Anti-Poverty Action Plan to be a living document that can be updated to reflect the changing realities of poverty in the territory. In March 2016, the government hosted the third annual Anti-Poverty Roundtable, where government representatives, Indigenous governments, civil society organizations, and businesses met in Yellowknife to discuss recent efforts to address poverty. After these annual roundtables, comments are implemented in the next iterations of the territorial anti-poverty action plan.
- Children and family support
- Healthy living and reaching our potential
- Safe and affordable housing
- Sustainable communities
- Integrated continuum of services
The cost of living in the North is much higher due to the geography and remoteness of the Territories. As a result, there are glaring disparities between Yukon and the rest of Canada.
In December 2012, The Yukon Department of Health and Social Services released A Better Yukon for All: Government of Yukon’s Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Strategy. The strategy contains the following three goals: 1) Improving Access to Services; 2) Reducing Inequality; and 3) Strengthening Community Vitality. Although its main purpose is to guide social policy development, there have been no updates on the strategy since it was released six years ago. Furthermore, the Speech from the Throne, delivered on April 20, 2017, did not mention poverty at all.
In July 2017, the Government of Yukon hosted a poverty reduction and housing forum “to broaden understanding of the connection between housing and poverty,” and build on the work already underway as part of the ten-year Housing Action Plan for Yukon 2015-2025.
In 2012, the Government of Prince Edward Island (PEI) released a three-year poverty strategy called Social Action Plan to Reduce Poverty. Following the expiry of this strategy, the lack of action by the PEI government to renew the province’s poverty reduction strategy has been met with significant critique by civil society organizations. In the November 2015 report, Lingering Too Long. But Why?, the MacKillop Centre for Social Justice and the PEI Coalition for a Poverty Eradication Strategy encourage the provincial government to recommit to a poverty strategy. On November 14, 2017, two years after the plan expired, the Government of PEI promised to introduce a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy in 2018. The Government of PEI also announced that public consultations would be held to “engage with the public, community groups, not-for-profit and service organizations.”
Since this announcement, the PEI Poverty Reduction Advisory Council was created to assist with the development of a collaborative strategy for PEI. The Government of PEI also established a task force to help with the creation and implementation of a provincial housing strategy, which is expected to be unveiled in spring 2018.
In April 2009, the Government of Nova Scotia introduced its poverty strategy Preventing Poverty, Promoting Prosperity. The strategy commits to reducing the number of people in poverty by the year 2020. The province has never reported on this strategy. While some poverty initiatives have been undertaken since its release in 2009, including increasing the minimum wage and creating a new action plan for education in the province, the strategy has fallen silent.
In the 2017-2018 budget, the Government of Nova Scotia set aside $2 million to “create and begin to implement a plan to address poverty in Nova Scotia.” On September 21, 2017, the Lieutenant Governor, in the Speech from the Throne, promised a four-year Blueprint to End Poverty, including $20 million to help form partnerships between the province, other levels of government, and the non-profit sector and $1 million annually to fight sexual violence. The Government of Nova Scotia also committed to creating the first-ever Accessibility Act.
The Economic and Social Inclusion Act requires the Government of New Brunswick to adopt a new poverty reduction plan every five years. In May 2014, the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation (ESIC) released Overcoming Poverty Together: The New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Plan, 2014-2019. The plan has 28 priority actions under four pillars: community empowerment, learning, economic inclusion, and social inclusion. All 28 action items are currently listed as “in progress.” Unaccomplished goals from 2009 are continuing priorities in the 2014 plan, in particular reducing poverty by 25% and deep poverty by 50%.
The ESIC supports twelve Community Inclusion Networks (CINS). These networks are responsible for identifying regional poverty issues and developing regional poverty plans. In May 2017, the Government of New Brunswick released New Brunswick Family Plan: Reducing Poverty. This plan commits to government action in seven priority areas. The province also released New Brunswick Family Plan: Supporting those with Addictions and Mental Health Challenges.
As of April 1, 2017, the minimum wage increased to $11, which will result in an after-tax gain of $594/year. Additionally, the Government of New Brunswick announced that it will invest $10 million over the next five years in Living SJ, a collective of more than 100 partners represented by local government, business, non-profit, and neighbourhood groups, to explore new or unique ways to fight intergenerational poverty.
In 2006, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador implemented Reducing Poverty: An Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador. With this strategy, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador set an ambitious goal of becoming the province with the lowest level of poverty in Canada.
As part of the strategy, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is required to produce a report every two years outlining progress on all indicators. Although the last report was released in 2014, a number of initiatives, including a “government-wide approach to reducing poverty,” have kept the strategy somewhat alive.
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. However, the 2016 budget announced massive “expenditure reductions” in the hopes of balancing the budget. Simply put, it is cutting back or “restructuring” multiple programs.
In 2016, the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development was created to oversee, among other key areas, “initiatives to foster poverty reduction.” A Poverty Reduction Division was also established. Additionally, the 2017/2018 provincial budget contains several new poverty reduction initiatives and additional funding for existing ones. On October 1, 2017, the minimum wage increased by 25 cents to $11.
As part of its National Strategy to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion, in 2002, the Government of Québec became the first province or territory to legislate poverty reduction as it unanimously passed an Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion. The law has been praised for its comprehensiveness and for defining poverty as more than just low income, including lack of “means, choices and power” as poverty indicators. A broad based provincial coalition of individuals and community organizations, the Collective for a Poverty Free Quebec, was vital to getting the law passed as they created a massive petition to support the government’s proposed law, and held public consultations throughout the process. In 2004, the Government of Québec followed up with its first poverty action plan entitled Reconciling Freedom and Social Justice: A Challenge for the Future. In 2010, the Government of Québec released the Government Action Plan for Solidarity and Social Inclusion 2010-2015.
In December 2017, two years after the second plan expired, the Government of Québec launched Government Action Plan to Foster Economic Inclusion and Social Participation 2017-2023. The plan seeks to lift 100,000 people out of poverty and provide a basic income for those with severely limited capacity for employment. In addition, investments will be made in a variety of areas, namely last-resort financial assistance, food security, training and employment, and daycare services.
In June 2017, after extensive consultation with women’s groups and the non-profit sector, the Government of Québec unveiled Together for Equality: Government Strategy for Gender Equality Toward 2021. Over 20 government ministries and agencies will be involved in implementing this five-year gender equality strategy.
During the provincial election in 2007, Make Poverty History in collaboration with other groups in the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction mounted a very successful campaign to get all provincial party leaders to support a poverty reduction plan.
In December 2008, the Government of Ontario introduced the plan Breaking the Cycle: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. On May 6, 2009 the Ontario legislature unanimously passed The Poverty Reduction Act, which commits successive provincial governments to act on poverty and provides measures to track progress over time. The strategy was created with significant input and collaboration from community groups and those living in poverty. In August 2014, the Ontario Government published its second poverty strategy entitled Realizing Our Potential. In the 2014 strategy, the government recommitted to its prior goal of reducing child poverty by 25%. Halfway through its second poverty strategy, the Government of Ontario took steps in 2017 to eliminate poverty in the province. However, it remains uncertain whether Ontario will reach its target of reducing child poverty by 25% in the next two years.
As of January 1, 2018, children and youth 24 years of age or younger will be entitled to free prescription medications, with no upfront costs. Additionally, $1.6-billion was earmarked to create 45,000 licensed child care spaces as part of a pledge aimed at giving 100,000 more children aged four and under access to licensed child care over five years.
In 2017-2018, there will be $15 million in additional funding for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative.
The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 will increase the minimum wage to $15 in 2019 and change working conditions for low wage and precariously employed individuals.
Despite calls from advocacy groups to restore social assistance rates to 1993 levels (indexed to inflation for present day), there was only a 2% increase to social assistance rates this year.
The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act, which mandates a long-term strategy to reduce poverty and increase social inclusion, came into effect on June 6, 2011. In May 2012, the Government of Manitoba released All Aboard: Manitoba’s Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy.
The strategy concluded its five-year cycle in May 2017. Since the implementation of All Aboard, there has been an increase in graduation rates, licensed child care spaces, and social and affordable housing units. However, despite progress on 17 out of 21 regulated indicators as of September 2017, Manitoba still has the highest child poverty rate of any province.
The 2016/2017 All Aboard Annual Report indicates that the Government of Manitoba is committed to renewing the strategy in 2017-2018. Currently, the Government of Manitoba has extended its deadline for community feedback on the next strategy to February 23, 2018.
In the wake of a large grass large grassroots movement towards developing a poverty strategy, Lieutenant Governor Schofield announced in his October 2014 Speech from the Throne that Saskatchewan would develop its first Poverty Reduction Strategy. Following the announcement, the Ministry of Social Services created and appointed the Saskatchewan Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction.
In February 2016 the Saskatchewan Government released the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy which aims to reduce poverty by 50% by then end of 2025 through a number of initiatives to benefit those living in poverty.
The plan focuses on:
- income security
- housing and homelessness
- early childhood development and child care
- education and training
- health and food security
- vulnerable families and people
The new strategy rests on four pillars:
- Sustaining a strong economy
- Ensuring citizens have a higher level of disposable income to use at their discretion
- Removing the barriers to independence
- Providing financial support to Saskatchewan’s most vulnerable citizens.
The strategy has been criticized for its lack of targets and long term goals by groups working on poverty in the province. Many feel that the strategy isn’t adequate to address the diverse areas outlined in the plan.
In addition, recent announcements by the provincial government have met significant critique from individuals living in poverty. For example, in August 2016 the province announced cutbacks for SAID, social assistance, and the shelter allowance that will drastically affect an estimated 2,700 people living with disabilities. For example, as reported in a CTV news article, one recipient estimated that he will be living off $150 a month due to these cuts.
Income inequality, high unemployment, few affordable housing options, and low social assistance rates all contribute to the persistence of poverty in Alberta. In June 2013, the Government of Alberta released Together We Raise Tomorrow: Alberta’s poverty reduction strategy. However, this strategy was never implemented and has since expired.
In the absence of a provincial strategy, eight cities partnered to create local responses to poverty, including Calgary, Canmore, Edmonton, Grand Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Municipal District of Wood Buffalo, and Red Deer and surrounding areas.
A number of initiatives benefiting low-income individuals were introduced in 2017, namely the Alberta Child Benefit, rebates for low-income earners, and a $15 minimum wage by October 2018.
In June 2017, the Government of Alberta promised $1.2 billion in affordable housing over five years through the implementation of a housing strategy entitled Making Life Better. Furthermore, in October 2017, the Government of Alberta committed to investing $5.1 billion in individual poverty programs and initiatives, in particular $25 per day childcare and new sexual and domestic violence legislation that eliminates barriers to pursuing justice.