Posts Tagged ‘child poverty’

A poverty “shoe-down” at the Manitoba Legislature

Jan. 4, 2013: Demonstrators calling for an increase in rental rates for income assistance recipients, left dozens of pairs of shoes on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature. Photo: Paul S. Graham

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
All Aboard

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
Child Poverty in Manitoba and Canada

Source: Statistics Canada (2010). Income in Canada, CANSIM 202-0802 as cited in the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg’s “Child & Family Poverty 2012 Report Card.”

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?

Despite its well established habit of electing social democratic governments, Winnipeg has claimed some dubious honors — “Murder Capital of Canada” and “Child Poverty Capital of Canada” to name two of the most disturbing. Even though we have had 11 years of NDP government to undo the damage of Gary Filmon’s Conservatives, both poverty and crime are well entrenched in Manitoba, especially in Winnipeg.

According to the 2011 Child and Family Poverty Report Card, issued by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg:

  • 92,650 children in Manitoba live in families under the poverty threshold
  • 29,000 children in Manitoba live in families with annual incomes insufficient for meeting basic needs
  • 29,563 Manitoban children use food banks each month because their families cannot afford to purchase the necessary food they require
  • 59,734 Manitobans accessed Employment and Income Assistance
  • The richest 20% of Manitoban families have more total income than the poorest 60% of the population

The Council says these statistics have not changed significantly since 1989, the year the House of Commons pledged to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.

What is to be done? According to the Manitoba Green Party, 80 per cent of all expenditures on social assistance programs are consumed by government bureaucracy. They proposed, in the last provincial election, to replace welfare benefits with a Universal Basic Income benefit, payable to all Manitobans, that would ensure no one slipped below the poverty line. The idea has merit and I hope the Greens continue to explain and promote it.

Yet another group of Manitobans proposes a package of measures they call a “Justice Charter to End Poverty in Manitoba.” I’ve included it at the end of this piece.

They also hold an annual event called the Four Directions Walk to End Poverty in which four contingents begin their walk on the outskirts of town and converge on the Manitoba Legislature. They held their fourth such walk on Saturday, Oct. 22. Naturally, I brought my video camera.

Justice Charter to End Poverty in Manitoba

We the people of Manitoba, seeing the growing gap between the wealthy and people in need, the working poor, and discriminated groups want to act in a timely manner to reverse the situation, to provide for people with needs and support the right for everyone to contribute to society to the best of their ability. To this end we make these demands and will work to make them a reality:

Housing must be a right and a comfort, not a constant crisis!

  • End subsidies to private landlords.
  • Establish stricter rent controls.
  • Enact a Tenant Bill of Rights.
  • Build and maintain public housing to the standard building code.
  • No utility cut-offs; establish a panel with legal power to require landlords to pay.

Universal health care for all, for every need!

  • Expand medicare into a comprehensive health care system focusing on prevention.
  • Extend medicare to cover all essential needs such as eye, drug, dental, ambulance and prosthetics.
  • Reduce pollution from mining and manufacturing, especially next to low income neighborhoods.

Jobs are a human right. Create good-paying jobs for all!

  • Create jobs through a massive investment in public housing, a public child care program, and conversion to a “green” economy.
  • Increase the minimum wage to $14 an hour.
  • Quality job creation by ensuring access to education, ending tuition fees, free student housing, education in Aboriginal and any other language where numbers warrant.
  • Access to better jobs – reduce the work week with no loss in pay, add paid vacation days and reduce the pension age for women to age 60.
  • End the Foreign Temporary Worker program, give these workers full labour rights and make them immigrants to Canada, if they so choose.

Provide for those in need!

  • Introduce a Guaranteed Liveable Income, above the poverty line and indexed to inflation.
  • Improve special needs benefits and introduce a fast appeals process with free advocacy services.
  • A public, high quality, free child care program employing well-paid early childhood development professionals.
  • Establish a hot breakfast program for children in schools.
  • For injured workers, establish a fast and free appeals process independent of the Workers Compensation Board. Provide free legal services and always respect the right to appeal.
  • Establish a Manitoba pension credit plan funded by payroll deductions, a surtax on corporate income to top up pensions above the poverty line and an inheritance wealth tax.
  • Establish a federally-chartered, publicly-owned bank that does not discriminate against people in poverty, is located in low-income areas, and provides free or nonprofit cheque cashing services and international fund transmittals.
  • Establish a province-wide, free and publicly-owned handi-transit service for people with disabilities.
  • Establish price controls for essential foods throughout Manitoba.

End racism, sexism and discrimination of all forms!

  • Support immediate settlement of Aboriginal land claims and emergency action to end housing, health care and education inequality.
  • Take steps to recognize Aboriginal nations on a new basis in Canada, including full national rights and equal nation to nation relations.
  • Introduce immediately affirmative action hiring with mandatory quotas for Aboriginal people, people of colour, women and people with disabilities in both the public and private sector.
  • Job pay equity for all workplaces.
  • Replace the present legal system of retribution and punishment with principles of restorative justice – restitution and reconciliation; include “ability to pay” as a consideration for sentencing people to jail for nonpayment of fines.
  • Ban discrimination based on social or mental health conditions in the Human Rights Code.
  • Introduce a Manitoba Bill of Rights based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), adding protections against all forms of sexism.

Reform the democratic system

  • Establish proportional representation so that people will vote for what they want and so that every person’s vote will count.
  • Pay Legislators the average worker’s wage and benefits in Manitoba.

The Justice Charter is for discussion by all Manitobans. The annual Four Directions Walk is Winnipeg’s largest annual anti-poverty activity. It is organized to encourage discussion of the ideas in this Charter. We invite groups representing Aboriginal peoples, women, workers, youth and students, people of colour, people with disabilities, injured workers, the working poor, people living in poverty, people of all faiths and nonbelievers – all supportive groups:

  • To establish a Four Directions Walk in other Manitoba communities.
  • To discuss the Charter and send us your ideas.

Contact us if you would like to receive information on the annual Walk, held on a Saturday close to the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17).

Four Directions Walk Committee
Phone (204) 792-3371.