Saskatchewan group aims to slash poverty in half

Reducing Poverty The Star Phoenix, August 24, 2015 -

The provincial government refuses to commit to a new goal to cut poverty in Saskatchewan in half by 2020 midway through a challenging budget year.

The Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction released a series of recommendations Monday with the key goal of cutting the province’s poverty rate of 10.6 per cent by 50 per cent in five years.

Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer, who attended Monday’s media event to present the recommendations, told reporters the province is in the middle of a tough budget year due to the unexpected cost of forest fires and the drop in the price of oil.

“I do want a goal, but it will be the right goal,” Harpauer said. “I won’t promise that, but I think we do need to set goals. Even if you don’t achieve them, you have greater efforts if you have them and work toward them.”

Harpauer said her ministry will analyze the recommendations, which range from housing to education to health, but would not set a deadline for the adoption of a provincial strategy.

“That’s going to take some time because poverty is extremely complex,” she said. “There’s not just one root cause.”

According to Statistics Canada’s market basket measure (MBM), Saskatchewan’s poverty rate has declined from about 14 per cent in 2002. The current rate suggests more than 100,000 people in the province live in poverty.

Harpauer noted Saskatchewan’s rate is below the national average of about 12 per cent.

The recommendations focus on six areas: income security, housing and homelessness, early childhood development, education and training, employment, and health and food security. The 11-member group, which was announced in December of 2014, was originally supposed to table its recommendations in May.

“We are urging the government to take action on all of the strategies and the task force recommendations that have been made in recent years,” Alison Robertson, the advisory group’s co-chair, told reporters.

“The government has committed to a poverty reduction strategy and they invited our expertise on this matter. So we have set forward a number of recommendations that we feel are an aggressive target but an achievable target.”

Harpauer pointed to Saskatoon’s Housing First initiative, which provided 24 homeless people with homes between its launch in 2012 and April 2014.

Dr. Ryan Meili, a physician with Saskatoon’s Westside Community Clinic and a member of the advisory group, said reducing poverty will help improve health.

NDP social services critic David Forbes called the recommendations “timely,” pointing to the rising cost of living in Saskatchewan.

Forbes said despite high spending, the Saskatchewan Party government has cut funding in key areas like housing and employment assistance that will make reducing poverty more difficult.

“It’s really about setting priorities,” Forbes said in a phone interview.

Some recommendations from the Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction:

- Ensure income supports meet basic needs and provide an acceptable standard of living

- Increase the supply of safe, affordable housing for those with low incomes

- Implement a comprehensive early years action plan

- Make sure all students get a Grade 12 education

- Province should use its influence to make sure under-represented groups are included in the workforce

- Focus on promoting health and preventing disease

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