Sask. campaign releases poverty report

October 17, 2014 - 2:26pm
Homeless man. Canadian Press photo
Homeless man. Canadian Press photo

Saskatchewan's poor are getting poorer, according to a newly released report by a group calling on the provincial government for a comprehensive poverty-reduction strategy.

Alison Robertson is the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre's director of community development. She's also one of the people out in front for the Poverty Costs campaign.

The campaign is centred around the claim that Saskatchewan loses $3.8 billion a year in potential revenue and unecessary spending on things like emergency room visits and justice system costs due to poverty.

Robertson said that in addition to detailing the methods used to arrive at that $3.8 billion price tag, the report also presents a snapshot of the situation.

First, Robertson said they've determined that overall poverty has in fact come down in the province.

"The current poverty rate has decreased now to about 10 to 15 per cent," she said.

That equates to around 100,000 people living on less than $36,000 a year for a family of four, or about $17,500 for an individual.

While Robertson said the overall reduction is encouraging, the good news is tempered by the fact that the poor who remain have seen their circumstances worsen.

She cited figures from 2002 showing the average poor household in Saskatchewan had income 26 per cent below the poverty line.  By 2010, she said that gap had increased to 36 per cent.

"So we're seeing poverty deepen for those who experience it," Robertson said.

The report was put together with the help of the Upstream think-tank. Policy Director Charles Plante said the idea is to reframe the way people view the issue. He said the tendency has been to count the costs of programs meant to help the poor, without accounting for their benefits.

"There are good charitable reasons for doing poverty reduction. But when we start talking about the costs of poverty and realising the way that the poverty of some individuals in our community costs all of us, we can start thinking a lot more constructively. We can think about that spending on poverty reduction as an investment, rather than just a pure cost," he said.

Robertson said right now, Saskatchewan is one of two provinces in the country without a detailed anti-poverty strategy.

"We do know that poverty reduction plans work. For example, since Newfoundland adopted a plan in 2006, they've gone from a province with one of the highest poverty rates to a province with one of the lowest poverty rates," she said.

Plante also cited the Newfoundland example.  He acknowleged that a booming offshore oil industry certainly helped that province's efforts, but he said other jurisdictions, such as Quebec, have enjoyed no such boom while still managing to reduce poverty. 

Robertson and Plante both said that right now, they aren't pushing for specific policies or programs. Rather, they want the conversation to start on a made-in-Saskatchewan plan with clear targets, firm timelines and accountability.
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