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, 14.8% of the population, that’s 678,000 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.
BC is the only province that has not made a commitment to creating a poverty reduction strategy, despite a vocal nongovernmental sector that has been calling for change for a long time. 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 invested $7.8 million in poverty-reduction initiatives, providing an additional $4.4 million in the 2015 budget, including a $1.75 million food allowance increase for people receiving income assistance. Additionally, the Government of NWT Anti-Poverty Fund was established in 2014. This $500,000 fund was created to support community-based anti-poverty efforts in the NWT region.
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
- As of 2015, the NWT Government has spent $140 million on 16 different income assistance programs.
- On June 1, 2015 the minimum wage increased significantly to $12.50/hour – the second highest in Canada.
- The Government of NWT has increased school funding by 5% since 2011, bringing the total amount of funding for 2014-15 to $148 million.
The No Place for Poverty Coalition maintains that the NWT Government has yet to take significant actions in areas like building more affordable housing and creating affordable childcare programs.
A report from PROOF, a research team at the University of Toronto, recently showed that the NWT had the highest rate of food insecurity since 2005, jumping from 14.2% to 24.1% in the past decade. The report called food insecurity in northern Canada a ‘state of emergency’. The head researcher of the report, Naomi Dachner, commented on their findings in an interview: “we’re talking about a very serious problem. One that’s inextricably linked to health and well-being and so many people are being afflicted. We’ve got an epidemic I’d say.”
The Yukon Department of Health and Social Services released the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Strategy in December 2012. Its creation involved multiple government departments and non-government advocacy organizations, such as the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and Yukon’s Status of Women Council.
- Reduce inequities (e.g. skill enhancement)
- Improve access to services (e.g. education, health care, transportation)
- Fortify community vitality
The report proposes to direct social policies, services and programs to reduce poverty and foster social inclusion. Although the report is presented as an action plan, it is more of a descriptive document.
- The Yukon Housing Corporation has also recently expanded their mandate in a new five-year strategic plan and committed to establishing a Yukon-wide housing action plan.
The Yukon government does not make reference to a human rights framework in regards to eliminating poverty. The Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Strategy has been criticized as a mere list of guiding principles without new initiatives or changes to funding. According to the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, housing support for economically disadvantaged populations is practically nonexistent.
On November 12, 2010 in its Speech from the Throne, the Government of Prince Edward Island announced its intent to address poverty, stating that “My government recognizes the need to put priority on addressing the needs of those Islanders facing the greatest challenges” and that “Early in the new year, my government will release a Poverty Reduction discussion paper that will begin the process, in consultation with Islanders, of examining further options to improve the well-being of Islanders who are vulnerable and in need.”
In May 2012 the provincial government released the Social Action Plan to Reduce Poverty. Although the direct cost of poverty for the Government of Prince Edward Island (PEI) has been calculated at almost $100 million per year (with additional indirect costs of $220 million), the government has not made additional commitments to ending poverty in the province since the expiry of its poverty plan in 2015.
- Support people to move out of poverty by strengthening their educational and economic opportunities and their participation in the labour force.
- Protect and enhance the standard of living and quality of life for those unable to participate in the labour force.
- The provincial government has been prompt with its progress reports, released one report annually since the introduction of the strategy in 2012. Information gathered in the first progress report was instrumental in adding a third goal to the strategy: to provide fair and equitable opportunities for Islanders to participate in and contribute to the cultural, economic and social environment of Prince Edward Island.
- Increases to the Department of Education spending
- The Catastrophic Drug Program ensures that low-income families do not exceed 3% of their annual income for prescription medications.
The lack of action by the PEI government to renew the province’s poverty reduction strategy has also 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. The groups note some successes from strategies in Newfoundland and Québec and point to the government’s failure to revitalize the expired strategy despite the commitment of the House of Commons to end child poverty in 1989, as well as Canada’s human rights obligations. As stated in the report, “The rights of the child cannot continue to be violated by governments…Peoples’ needs especially the needs of the most vulnerable should come first. But how can they when poverty is largely a forgotten issue, barely on the radar of the PEI government when budget choices and priorities are made? There is little determined effort to tackle the problem or recognize what it does to people”.
The MacKillop Centre has called on the provincial government to create a strategy which: has clear legislated targets and timelines measured by multiple concrete methods; deals with multiple dimensions and causes of poverty including improved wages, social programs and greater assistance to people with disabilities; a focus on marginalized groups; and province wide consultation with those most affected by the strategy.
On December 13, 2007, An Act to Establish a Poverty Reduction Working Group was passed unanimously by the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. A Poverty Reduction Working Group was then created to provide recommendations to the Government of Nova Scotia on the creation of a poverty reduction strategy. The Nova Scotia government released its Poverty Reduction Strategy on April 3, 2009, Preventing Poverty. Promoting Prosperity. Nova Scotia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
“The vision for 2020: to break the cycle of poverty by creating opportunities for all Nova Scotians to participate in the prosperity of the province and enjoy a better standard of living.” The four main goals of the strategy are:
- Enable and reward work
- Improve supports for those in need
- Focus on our children
- Collaborate and coordinate
To achieve these goals the plan includes the creation of a poverty reduction committee and coordinator to enhance collaboration and coordination, investments in training opportunities and housing, increases to income assistance, expansion of the Nova Scotia child benefit and the creation of more subsidized child-care spaces. To ensure accountability the Poverty Reduction Working Group is responsible for establishing benchmarks and measures and periodically reporting on the progress of the poverty-reduction strategy. The adoption of a poverty reduction strategy by the Nova Scotia government represents a step in the right direction. However, the plan needs targets to measure meaningful progress.
- The SchoolsPlus program was expanded in 2014, providing accessible services for low-income families.
Since the introduction of Nova Scotia’s poverty reduction strategy in 2009, no tangible targets have been set to measure progress. In fact, no progress reports have been released since the strategy was created seven years ago. The province is host to extremely high rates of food insecurity and child poverty, issues that can only be addressed through the implementation of an effective and comprehensive strategy. Without proper targets, timelines, reporting and accountability mechanisms, Nova Scotia will face significant obstacles to meeting its goal of reducing poverty by 2020
In 2009, New Brunswick became the sixth province to adopt a poverty-reduction strategy, Overcoming Poverty Together: The New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Plan. New Brunswick adopted the Economic and Social Inclusion Act, in 2010, to serve as the legislative framework to implement the plan and they established a new crown corporation, the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation, to set targets and timelines and monitor progress. The corporation is governed by representatives of government, community, business and low-income persons and oversees the formation of community-level networks to create local poverty reduction plans.
In May 2014 ESIC created “Overcoming Poverty Together: The New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Plan, 2014-2019.” Its vision is for all people of New Brunswick to be able to meet their basic needs and to live with dignity, security, and good health, while providing opportunities for employment, personal development and community engagement. The Economic and Social Inclusion Act requires the province to adopt a new plan every five years Unaccomplished goals from 2009 are continuing priorities in 2014. The new plan aims to reduce income poverty by 25% and deep income poverty by 50%. The cost of poverty in New Brunswick is estimated at $2 billion a year.
The 2014 plan focuses on four pillars with 28 priority actions, some of these include:
- Support for community development
- Communication and networking
- Child and youth education
- Adult education, training and preparation to work
- Participation in the labour market
- Business activity
- Food security
- As part of the 2014 poverty reduction plan, the provincial government is investing $3 million in education initiatives for Aboriginal individuals pursuing post-secondary education.
- In April 2014 the provincial and federal governments together contributed $78 million toward affordable housing units, including construction of new units, rental subsidies and maintenance of existing units.
Many of New Brunswick’s poverty reduction strategies are still framed as good policy or social inclusion. The Government of New Brunswick has yet to frame the problem as a human rights violation. Since the launch of the 2014 plan, the Coalition for Pay Equity has been critical of the provincial budget cuts. For example, as of 2014 the provincial government has delivered on less than 50% of its promised increase in budgeted spaces for daycares.
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.
Quebec has been one of the most progressive provinces so far taking action on poverty. It was the first province in the country to introduce a legislated poverty reduction strategy.
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. As part of its National Strategy to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion, in 2002, the Government of Quebec 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. In 2004, the Government of Quebec released its first 5-year action plan on poverty and in May 2010 released its second 2010-2015 action plan Government Action Plan for Inclusion and Solidarity. As of December 2016, the Government of Québec has not indicated plans for successive poverty strategies.
Quebec’s first plan wanted to reduce poverty in the province by half over 10 years, and achieve one of the lowest levels of poverty in the industrialized world by 2013. The plan included:
- Maintaining the Child Assistance and the Work Premium
- Introduction of a refundable Solidarity Tax Credit
- Investing in training and supporting access to employment
- Improving the disposable income of individuals on low incomes
- Supporting local and regional social initiatives
- Increasing access to social housing
This is not just talk from the Quebec government. To achieve its goals Quebec’s plan came with a budget of close to $7 billion over five years, $1.3 billion of it in new investments. It offered accountability through an annual report on its progress from the Minister of Employments office, and it has established an advisory committee.
The second plan outlined four thrusts as guidelines for action. These areas were:
Thrust 1: Review our standard practices and make local and regional communities key players in the decision-making process;
Thrust 2: Acknowledge the value of work and foster the self-sufficiency of individuals;
Thrust 3: Foster the economic self-sufficiency of underprivileged individuals;
and Thrust 4: Improve the living conditions of low-income individuals and families.
One of the outstanding aspects of Quebec’s poverty reduction plan is it’s commitment to human rights. The government claims that it recognizes “that in an inclusive society such as ours, everyone has the right to live with dignity and with a sufficient standard of living according to international standards, and it intends to do everything in its power to attain this goal.”
- The proportion of people living on low incomes in Quebec has dropped from 12% in 2004 to 9.4% in 2009.
- The Government of Québec plans to continue limiting tuition fees over the next four years to the annual indexation of 3% per year
- In May 2015 the provincial government increased minimum wage 20 cents to a general rate of $10.55 an hour
- Quebec’s universal child care system which costs parents approximately $7 a day, returns $1.05 to its government for every $1 invested – and Ottawa recovers 44 cents, even with no direct investment. These returns continue to grow.
Although Québec has considerably reduced its poverty rate over the last decade, the reduction has slowed in recent years. Also, the Government of Québec has made significant cuts to accessible housing. The organization, Le Collectif, cautions that austerity policies are taking from the poor and the middle class, reminding us that 10% of Québeckers cannot meet their basic needs, including welfare recipients.
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%.
Breaking The Cycle Of Poverty For Children And Youth
- An increase in the Ontario Child Benefit (as indexed to inflation)
- Increased health benefits for children and youth in low-income families
- Improving access to full-day kindergarten
Moving Towards Employment And Income Security, Particularly For Vulnerable Groups
- Creation of jobs and skills programs for young people
- Improvements in access to employment and skills training for vulnerable populations, including Aboriginals and persons with disabilities
- A raise in minimum wage
A Long Term Goal Of Ending Homelessness In Ontario
- Improvements in supports for people with mental health and addiction issues including new investments
- Increased investments in affordable housing and homelessness prevention
- Improvements in support for off-reserve Aboriginal housing
Using Evidence-Based Social Policy To Measure Success
In the 2014 poverty plan, the Ontario Government reported that child poverty has decreased in Ontario. Based on the Low-Income Measure used by the Ontario Government, child poverty rates dropped from 15.2% in 2008 to 13.8% in 2011. Campaign 2000 uses a measure that marks child poverty as high as 19.9% in 2012. This measure results in a 9.2% decrease in child poverty between 2008 and 2011. According to some researchers, child poverty hit epidemic levels during the period covered by the first poverty strategy.
A common concern shared among organizations – such as the 25 in 5 Network and the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition – is that while Ontario’s goals are commendable, the strategy lacks concrete targets and timelines as well as an investment strategy. The concern is that without action and measurable targets these goals cannot be reached. There has also been significant dissent about the efficacy of the new 2016 budget in striving towards the goals highlighted in the 2014 reduction strategy. Social assistance rates remain woefully insufficient, affordable childcare is out of reach for many families, and minimum wage is well below a living wage.
Following the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act. in June 2011, the Government of Manitoba introduced a four year poverty strategy entitled All Aboard: Manitoba’s Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy (All Aboard Strategy) in May 2012. To complement the All Aboard Strategy, the government has released additional action plans for targeted areas related to poverty. The newly elected Manitoba government has stated it will create a new poverty reduction plan in Budget 2017 to replace All Aboard.
The All Aboard Strategy notes an overall vision of “a future where people are socially included, connected to their communities, participating in the economy and contributing to our province”. The strategy identifies the following seven priority areas:
- Building blocks for employment
- Targeting supports for those in need
- Food security
- Closing the gap for Indigenous Manitobans
- Creating opportunities for youth
- and Early childhood development
Since ALL Aboard was introduced in 2009, there has been:
- 3% increase in the number of social and affordable housing units funded by Manitoba,
- 8% increase in graduation rates,
- 5% increase in childcare availability.
Make Poverty History Manitoba believes that Manitoba can do better; urging the government to increase Employment and Income Assistance rates and stressing that people should be able to meet their basic needs and experience more social inclusion.
Campaign 2000 is critical of the Government of Manitoba because more children are living in poverty, and Indigenous families are disproportionately living in poverty because of the political control on their lives. Campaign 2000 states that getting a job is not enough to cure poverty – living wage jobs, regular hours, benefits, and protections are needed.
Finally, the provincial government has been criticized for using vague indicators and not including concrete goals to evaluate improvements.
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.
In June 2013, the government announced the release of a discussion paper entitled, Together We Raise Tomorrow: Alberta’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Since the release of the discussion paper, progress on the poverty strategy has been slow to hit the ground. However, a recent re-commitment in the province’s 2016 budget marked that the strategy was in development.
Historically, Alberta has been one of the richest provinces in the country, but with the recent economic crisis and resulting unemployment rates, it will have to re-structure past approaches to poverty. Local poverty strategies and recent policies to address poverty including the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the progressive tax system, and payday loan regulations are a step in the right direction, but the government is still lacking a cohesive provincial poverty plan.