A group of organizations in Saskatoon have banded together to lobby the provincial government for a poverty reduction strategy that addresses the root causes of poverty in Saskatchewan.
Upstream Institute for a Healthy Society, the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre, the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition and the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership launched Poverty Costs, a campaign which intends to persuade the Saskatchewan government to commit to creating a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy for the province.
A newly formed group in Saskatoon, Upstream Institute for a Healthy Society has calculated that Saskatchewan loses approximately $3.8 billion annually due to improperly addressing the problems of poverty.
Helping to lead the campaign is Rachel Malena of Upstream, who said the method — which has been used to measure the costs of poverty in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec — was developed by Nathan Laurie, a policy analyst from Ontario.
She said the calculation looks at the direct costs of poverty: the intergenerational and the opportunity costs that are carried when a population is unable to fully engage in social and economic life.
Though the groups involved maintain that poverty should still be calculated in terms of the human costs rather than considered an inevitable facet of a growing economy, they show that the economic detriment cannot be ignored.
As Director of Community Development at the Saskatoon Food Bank, Alison Robertson wants to raise awareness of the economic costs of poverty in Saskatchewan because it is a proactive rather than reactive strategy.
“Evidence shows that it’s less expensive to address poverty at its root rather than paying the costly downstream effects,” she said.
The implementation of a plan remains a future goal as the campaign currently seeks to get the Saskatchewan government to commit to a strategy from which a number of possible policies could be used to reduce poverty. Poverty reduction strategies across Canada have involved raising minimum wage, had an emphasis on affordable housing or looked at increasing affordable childcare, social assistance rates or investments in early childhood education.
Saskatchewan and British Columbia are the only two Canadian provinces that do not have comprehensive poverty reduction strategies.
Upstream director Dr. Ryan Meili said that each province requires their own poverty reduction plan.
“Poverty reduction strategies need to be designed for the specific social and economic context of the province that will undertake them,” Meili said. “The key thing to remember is that [poverty reduction strategies] need to be comprehensive.”
He looks towards the municipal police forces of Edmonton and Calgary aimed at reducing poverty as examples for communities in Saskatchewan.
Meili is hopeful that including Saskatchewan on the list of provinces with similar strategies will garner the attention of the federal government and motivate them to implement a national strategy.
A federal strategy could have a huge influence across the country, Meili said — especially in areas where provincial policies can lack like on reserves. However, the Saskatchewan organizations will remain focused on implementing a strategy provincially.
“We are very optimistic that by showing the Government of Saskatchewan just how much support there is for effective poverty reduction, we will soon see the first steps taken to create a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.” Malena said.
During the week of March 10–15, there will be a number of Poverty Costs events across the University of Saskatchewan campus.
For more information or to show your support for the campaign, sign on to their initiative at povertycosts.ca.