Provinces are falling behind when it comes to poverty reduction, according to a new report by Food Banks Canada.
The organization’s newly-released Poverty Report Cards assigned grades to the provinces’ overall poverty mitigation strategies in comparison with each other. With a C- grade, Manitoba scored slightly better than most, with all other provinces except for Quebec and Prince Edward Island scoring a D+ or lower.
“We need a collective effort from every level of government in Canada, and this report allows us to see that while every government has a long way to go, some are doing more than others,” Ozga said in a statement.
Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, was surprised to see Manitoba score that high.
“We have too long been the province with the highest rates of child and family poverty, and it’s been an ongoing issue, and one of the major factors is that we have had very poor poverty reduction strategies from this province,” Kehler said.
The report also scores based on sub-categories. Manitoba’s “Poverty Measures” category scored a D-, with failing grades given to the overall poverty rate (8.8 per cent), social assistance as a percentage of the poverty line (37 per cent) and disability assistance as a percentage of the poverty line (52 per cent).
Kehler argues this is because of inadequate spending.
“The province itself spends the money they get from the federal government poorly. Depending on the government, it will decide to spend that money on a tax cut, for example, instead of taking it in and building up those services.”
Manitoba’s “Experience of Poverty” was given a C-, with the number of people feeling worse off compared with last year at 41.5 per cent (C-), and the number of people having trouble accessing health care at 21.2 per cent (F).
Manitoba’s legislative process was given a C grade, with the report stating that strides have been made to address the housing crisis, but a stronger poverty reduction strategy is still needed.
The report recommends measures to support groups that are disproportionately affected, including single people and Indigenous Peoples. It also suggests a stronger rental assistance program, more investments in child care and a significant increase in earning exemptions for people receiving Employment and Income Assistance (EIA).
Meaghan Erbus, director of network, advocacy and education at Harvest Manitoba, says many people who access food banks in this province do so because they can’t make ends meet on EIA.
“We know that people are accessing our services because EIA rates are so low. And that a lot of that reason is because they’re accessing not just through the general EIA system but through disability as well, and that mental health plays a huge role in food bank use,” Erbus said.
Data shows that 19.1 per cent of Manitobans — roughly one in five — experienced food insecurity. Erbus says the people who go to food banks have included more and more working people recently, not just those living below the poverty line.
The PC party has promised, if re-elected on Oct. 3, to help Manitobans financially by raising the income level at which people start paying tax, as well as through a single parent employment program and measures to help mothers receive skills and training.
The NDP has promised a K-12 breakfast program at all Manitoba schools, while the Liberals have said they would modify EIA to increase benefits to those who need them.
Erbus says poverty reduction needs to involve strategies for housing assistance as well.
“Two of the areas that I think folks want us to advocate most about is around social assistance — so finding ways to put more money in the pockets of people that need it — and finding places for folks to live that are affordable, and that they can choose on their own.”