Welcome to this week’s email.
I don’t know about where you live, but after shoveling my car out of the driveway for the third time last week, I was tempted to curse the snow, but then I remembered last week’s issue and bit my tongue.
This summer, I was shocked to see dried out marshland, southeast of Buffalo Pound Lake in Saskatchewan. I’ve visited this area often over the last 30 years or so and have never seen it like it is pictured below.
This week’s topic was suggested by Ian, a reader in Regina, whose recent work has given him a close look at poverty on the Prairies.
“It’s been an eye-opener for me,” he wrote. “I’d been woefully ignorant about the level of poverty” people live in.
Let’s talk about the children
Close to 30 per cent of children live in poverty in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Manitoba has the highest rate of child poverty with 28.3 per cent of youth living in poverty.
Saskatchewan isn’t much better. Its child poverty rate is 26.1 per cent.
The numbers for Canada’s other two western provinces—Alberta (16.7 per cent) and B.C. (18.5 per cent)—are much closer to the national average of 18.2 per cent.
Roughly more than half of First Nations children live in poverty and a little over 20 per cent are New Canadians and/or kids of colour.
Poverty usually impacts single-parent homes more than households that have two parents.
Stats from Harvest Manitoba, the province’s food bank network, suggest the situation for these children likely only got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Manitoba food banks saw a 30 per cent increase in demand and a 60 per cent decrease in donations.
At one point during the pandemic, Harvest, which usually provides bi-weekly hampers of food, were only able to offer them monthly, which the organization knew wasn’t enough to last a family a month.
Hunger not only makes it difficult for children to focus on school, but it can also impair cognitive functioning and brain development.
Cheaper refined foods, often full of sugar, can also put youth at risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Online learning proved to be a problem during the pandemic for those in low-income homes that cannot afford internet service. In Manitoba, Garden Hill First Nation had to cancel the remainder of its school year in 2020 because of poor internet connectivity and lack of household computers.
Youth in poverty often don’t have adequate winter clothing, access to extracurricular activites, including swimming lessons. Dental disease also disproportionately affects low-income families, who usually don’t have the insurance coverage, nor the money, to see a dentist.
Parents, working two jobs, may not have time to read to their children or help them with homework, so lower-income children can do poorer in school, which can make it difficult for them to find employment and get out of poverty later as adults.
What are the federal and provincial governments doing to fight poverty?
Saskatchewan has had several anti-poverty rallies lately after the government replaced the Saskatchewan Assistance Program with Saskatchewan Income Support at the end of August.
The government said the new program helps people become more self-sufficient, but anti-poverty advocates say its leading to more evictions and homelessness.
In Manitoba, a single parent with three kids get $1,572 under the provincial Employment and Income Assistance Program. The average rent for a three-bedroom home in a neighbourhood like William Whyte in Winnipeg’s north end is $1,214.
Last week, the City of Winnipeg released its first-ever long-term poverty reduction plan, which lists 80 strategies to be implemented over the next 18 months, including:
- making surplus land available for affordable housing at low or no cost;
- hiring people facing employment barriers;
- providing a living wage for all employees;
- free transit for youth aging out of care and tokens for those unsheltered;
- supporting a safe drug consumption site; and
- building drinking fountains in parks in low-income areas.
Winnipeg city council will vote on the plan before the end of the month.
In August, 2018, the federal government released Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy. An important part of this was the Child Care Benefit, which, as of this year, offers a maximum annual benefit of $6,833 per child under age six and $5,765 per child aged six through 17.
The Liberal Party of Canada claims the CCB has lifted 435,000 kids out of poverty However, in my research, I couldn’t find a government study to support this claim. I did, however, find an academic study that showed the CCB only reduced the poverty of single mothers slightly when compared to the control group of single women, who didn’t qualify for the benefit.
The federal government offers a number of other tax benefits to low-income households, which have the lowest filing rate.
Often those living in poverty face a number of barriers to submitting their taxes, such as low literacy and issues with assembling documents, which means they may miss out on their financial entitlements. This is why a number of agencies working to lift people out of poverty offer tax help.
What else can be done to reduce poverty on the prairies?
There is much more the governments could be doing to decrease poverty. Anti-poverty groups recommend increasing the minimum wage, implementing drug, vision and dental benefits for all low-income people, strengthening tenet protection legislation, reducing tuition costs and much more that will be explored in future issues of The Flatlander.
How can you support The Flatlander going forward?
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If you have any suggestions for other topics affecting the Prairies you’d like me to dive into for a future Tuesday read, like Ian did, hit reply to this email and let me know.
Also, feel free to send me a letter to the editor if you have any thoughts on this issue, and I’d be happy to publish it as part of an upcoming newsletter.
The Flatlander has plans to start doing original journalism soon, and I should have an announcement about that next week.
Thanks for reading.
Cheers and kind regards,
Important work at a critical time.
Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond, local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.
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