A poverty “shoe-down” at the Manitoba Legislature
Make Poverty History Manitoba rallied at the Manitoba Legislature on Friday to demand that the provincial government increase the rental allowance provided to recipients of provincial Employment and Income Assistance (EIA). Recalling the kindness of a Winnipeg Transit driver who gave a homeless man a pair of shoes, demonstrators left dozens of pairs of shoes on the steps of the Legislature to send the message that they no longer wish to depend on isolated, random acts of kindness.
EIA recipients are provided with a rental allowance that has increased only slightly over the past two decades. During that same period, rents have gone up by 60 to 70%.
According to Kirsten Bernas, Make Poverty History Manitoba is asking the Province to increase the rental allowance to 75% of median market rent, a move the provincial government estimates would cost approximately $18.5 million annually.
In this video report, Ms. Bernas explains why this increase is long overdue.
Poverty on the increase in Manitoba
According to the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, “While the national poverty rate has remained relatively stable since 2006, the child poverty rate in Manitoba has been gradually increasing and remains 6.4 percentage points higher than the national average.” The SPCW reports that Manitoba had the second highest child poverty rate in Canada in 2012, with over 20% of our children (about 54,000) living below the poverty line as defined by Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure After Taxes.
In Manitoba, the fastest growing banks are the food banks. Some statistics gleaned from the Winnipeg Harvest food bank web site tell the story:
- Winnipeg Harvest provides emergency food assistance to nearly 64,000 people a month across Manitoba. Therefore, Winnipeg Harvest clients are Manitoba’s second-largest city. This figure is up more than 14% over the same period last year.
- More than 47% of its clients are children. For each of the last two years, Manitoba is the #1 province for food bank use.
- Winnipeg Harvest feeds more 30,000 children each month. Ten years ago, that number stood at 5,500 children.
- Seniors and refugees have more than doubled in food bank use since 2010.
- 1/3 of families experiencing hunger are dual wage-earner families, i.e, the working poor.
- Winnipeg Harvest distributes food to more than 330 agencies throughout Manitoba
With great fanfare, the Manitoba government announced its ALL Aboard: Manitoba’s Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy in 2009. In 2011, the The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act became law, committing the Province to include a poverty reduction strategy in its annual budget. In April, the Province released it’s four-year poverty reduction plan. While the strategy appears, upon first reading, to take a comprehensive approach to tackling poverty, two serious shortcomings are immediately evident:
- The authors appear to believe that poverty rates in Manitoba are shrinking; they make the claim that the number of Manitobans living in poverty went down by 6,000 between 2000 and 2009. Research from the above-cited sources suggests that the opposite trend is more likely.
- There are no concrete goals against which the government’s performance can be evaluated. Instead, we are given vague indicators against which progress will be measured.
A second reading of the strategy reveals it to be a glossy, feel-good kind of document which does little to instill confidence that the provincial government is seriously committed to poverty reduction. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.
Déjà vu all over again
Manitoba’s child poverty rates have remained above the national rate since 1989 when Canada’s House of Commons passed a unanimous all-party resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Canada’s national poverty rate remains pretty much where it was in 1990.
In 2009, the House passed another unanimous motion to “develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all.” The Manitoba government seems to have bought into the legislative zeitgeist. However, unless there are some significant changes in their approach, nothing will change. The rich will get richer and the poor poorer — all of this occurring in the heartland of one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
A good place to start would be to acknowledge that poverty is growing and to act accordingly. This would include setting real goals and dedicating more resources to meet them. It would also mean backing away from its failed strategy of regular tax reductions so we have more resources to allocate to alleviating poverty. It would mean educating the public about the true nature of poverty and taking the risk that an honest dialogue would win over all but the most diehard reactionaries in the province.
Finally, for starters, why not increase the funds allocated to housing in the EIA budget, so that disabled, unemployed and other immiserated Manitobans don’t have to choose between paying the rent or putting food in their bellies?