Cost of poverty in Sask. $3.8B: Report looks at health, justice, more

By Jason Warick, The StarPhoenix February 3, 2014 - Poverty costs the Saskatchewan economy at least $3.8-billion per year, according to figures compiled by a new Saskatoon-based group.

It's the first time a dollar figure has been placed on the lost opportunities and increased expenses to society caused by poverty, said Charles Plante, policy director at Upstream, which bills itself as "a movement to create a healthy society through evidence-based, people-centred ideas."

The numbers are drawn from other research and methods used in Quebec, Ontario and other places. One-third of that amount is based on direct costs to the justice, health, social services and other systems, Plante said.

"We know poor people have worse health, more contact with the justice system and other things. These are the effects of poverty," he said.

The remaining two thirds are due to lost tax revenue, lower productivity and other factors.

Aside from the moral imperative to help those in need, Plante said it also makes economic sense.

"If we can build people up, give them the supports they need, then they'll contribute to the economy," he said.

He said the $3.8-billion figure - nearly $4,000 per Saskatchewan resident - is likely a low estimate, as some factors are difficult to pin down.

"It's not perfect, but it's a great place to start the conversation," he said.

The figure is the centre piece of a campaign Upstream, the Saskatoon Food Bank, the Saskatoon Anti-poverty Coalition and the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership will launch next month called "Poverty Costs." Upstream director Ryan Meili said they hope to challenge the myth that poverty cannot be eradicated, or that economic growth should be the only goal. He said strong economic growth has not led to corresponding increases in people's standard of living or "index of wellbeing."

"Wealth is being generated in this country, but wellbeing is not," Meili said. He cited other research which showed factors such as income, education levels and job status are far more important indicators of health than the actual health care system.

That's why tackling poverty, through guaranteed income supplements, improved public child care and education is vital, he said.

Plante, Meili and others hope Saskatchewan will use this and other data to create a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy.

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