New Brunswick’s child advocate has once again called on the government to create an official strategy for children even as a new report detailed that the rate of poverty in New Brunswick is far higher than the national average.
Even though the 2018 Child Poverty Reduction Report Card has found that the number of children in poverty declined nearly 1.9 per cent from the year before in 2016 (the most recent data that is accessible), the numbers remain grim.
According to the annual report from the Saint John Human Development Council, 31,400 or 23 per cent of youth in the province live in poverty.
That is the fourth highest rate in Canada.
It’s a point echoed by Norman Bossé, the province’s child and youth advocate, when he called for a “comprehensive provincial strategy for children” earlier this week.
“Nothing has been done by government to move this forward,” Bosse wrote in his annual report.
Barry Galloway, executive director of the Saint John community group The One Change, said he isn’t surprised by the numbers.
“Poverty is such a profound issue in our community. And because it’s in everyone’s face every day, I think we become a little desensitized to it,” Galloway said in an interview on Thursday.
Children living in poverty are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, inadequate nutrition, chronic health problems and injuries while also being at a heightened risk of lower emotional well-being and a lack of education outcomes.
Galloway said combating poverty comes down to ensuring people have the resources to live.
“Sometimes those resources are monetary. That’s a key piece of it, obviously. But sometimes those resources are things like, you may have a child with complex behavioural needs and I need access to supports to support my child so they get a better education while they’re in school,” Galloway said.
Randy Hatfield of the Saint John Human Development Council says that to improve, the current rate of child poverty can be combatted through getting money into the hands of those who need it the most.
“We want to decrease the poverty rates. We have to put more money in the hands of people,” Hatfield said.
“So we either have to make employment incomes more robust or we have to work on the entitlements and benefits.”
Dorothy Sheppard, New Brunswick’s minister of social development, says education is the key to ending poverty in the province, not minimum wage or benefits.
“Poverty is about education and if we can empower individuals with education and lift them up and take them to better opportunities for themselves, we’re always going to do better,” Sheppard said.
The minister would not commit to supporting a policy brought in under the province’s Liberal government to provide free tuition for eligible New Brunswickers.
She called the program good marketing by the former government.
Galloway said that that education is important, but that community is the strongest pillar on which to build a response.
“I believe community does things often more effectively and at a less cost than government can do it. I think that that’s where the investment needs to go,” he said.
“In the community, so they can create the change that needs to happen.”