Miss­ing the poverty tar­get

Gov­ern­ment hid­ing the real face of poverty; op­po­si­tion

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY DENISE PIKE

New­found­land and Labrador’s poverty rate (13.0 per cent) may be among the low­est in Canada, but ac­cord­ing to a re­port from Food Bank Canada the num­ber of peo­ple us­ing food banks is up.

The re­port Hunger Count 2009 says the prov­ince has seen a 10.1 per cent in­crease in food bank us­age from just one year ago.

Roland But­ler, Port de Grave MHA and Op­po­si­tion critic for Hu­man Re­sources, Labour and Em­ploy­ment says “the re­port is very dis­turb­ing and gov­ern­ment needs to do more to tackle the is­sue of poverty.”

“ Not only are the statis­tics on food bank us­age alarm­ing, but gov­ern­ment’s poverty strat­egy and its progress re­port on poverty fail to ac­knowl­edge this part of our so­ci­ety ex­ists, let alone of­fer so­lu­tions to ad­dress it!” said But­ler. “ One of the purest in­di­ca­tors of eco­nomic strug­gles by fam­i­lies is their use of

“If you look at the high­lights of the Poverty Re­duc­tion strat­egy “ un­for­tu­nately there’s very lit­tle there to help the peo­ple who are us­ing food banks. Gov­ern­ment has missed their own tar­get.” — Roland But­ler, Port de Grave MHA

food banks.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Food Banks Canada re­port over 30,000 New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans rely on food banks on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. The re­port, pre­pared by Eg Wal­ters of the Com­mu­nity Food Shar­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, said last year food bank us­age in­creased by three per cent. How­ever this year it climbed to more than 10 per cent.

Of the 30,014 peo­ple who used food banks, 37 per cent were chil­dren, nine per cent were em­ployed, 14 per cent re­ceive em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance and 71 per cent were on so­cial as­sis­tance.

“ This trend is par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing given the fairly ro­bust econ­omy on the East­ern Avalon, which is driv- en by the oil and gas in­dus­try,” the re­port said.”

Low­est poverty rates

On Dec.14 Su­san Sul­li­van, min­is­ter of Hu­man Re­sources, Labour and Em­ploy­ment re­leased the prov­ince’s first progress re­port on poverty re­duc­tion.

“ This doc­u­ment demon­strates that through the Poverty Re­duc­tion Strat­egy, our gov­ern­ment is meet­ing its com­mit­ment to pre­vent, re­duce and al­le­vi­ate poverty in New­found­land and Labrador,” said Sul­li­van. “ It’s ev­i­dent this prov­ince is well along on its jour­ney to­ward be­ing the prov­ince with the low­est poverty rates in Canada by 1014.”

Some of the ini­tia­tives cited in the 2006 to 2009 progress re­port to com­bat poverty in­clude pro­vid­ing adults with dis­abil­i­ties liv­ing with fam­ily the same board and lodg­ing sup­ple­ment as those liv­ing with non-rel­a­tives, ex­panded el­i­gi­bil­ity to the prov­ince’s Pre­scrip­tion Drug pro­gram to in­clude low-in­come res­i­dents, in­creased ac­cess to Spe­cial Child Wel­fare Al­lowance pro­gram to help fam­i­lies off­set some of the as­so­ci­ated costs they in­cur at home when looking af­ter a child with de­vel­op­men­tal or phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, ex­pan­sion of the den­tal plan for 13 to 17 year olds in low in­come fam­i­lies, in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage to $10 per hour by 2010, in­creased labour mar­ket par­tic­i­pa­tion for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, free text­books for all Kinder­garten to Grade 12 stu­dents, elim­i­na­tion of school fees, lower rental rate for New­found­land and Labrador Hous­ing ten­ants with em­ploy­ment earn­ings and for those 55 and older and

in­creased fund­ing to the Kids Eat Smart Foun­da­tion.

“All th­ese im­prove­ments are all fine and dandy, but it still doesn’t put money in the pock­ets of the poor so they can buy food,” says But­ler. “Peo­ple still have to re­sort to food banks!”

Missed the tar­get

But­ler says he isn’t nit­pick­ing or go­ing against the gov­ern­ment’s progress re­port. He just doesn’t see how any of the strate­gies im­ple­mented by the Tories are im­prov­ing the lives of the prov­ince’s most vul­ner­a­ble, and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to the peo­ple who are forced to use food banks.

“Free text books for all is great, but the ma­jor­ity of fam­i­lies who were on so­cial as­sis­tance in the past didn’t have to pay for them any­way, so it re­ally isn’t help­ing them,” ex­plains But­ler. “Gov­ern­ment pro­vid­ing the books didn’t re­sult in th­ese peo­ple hav­ing more money for food. In­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage is also a great idea and is needed, but it’s not go­ing to help peo­ple who are not work­ing and on so­cial as­sis­tance. Again all th­ese ini­tia­tives are great and they will help many fam­i­lies, par­tic­u­larly the mid­dle-in­come fam­i­lies but they won’t do much for the ones who are us­ing the food banks, the ones who need some ex­tra money the most. If you look at the high­lights of the Poverty Re­duc­tion Strat­egy un­for­tu­nately there’s very lit­tle there to help the peo­ple who are us­ing food banks. Gov­ern­ment has missed their own tar­get.”

But­ler raised the is­sue in the House of As­sem­bly Dec 16.

“Not only has the num­ber of per­sons re­ly­ing on food banks in­creased, but this prov­ince ranks the high­est in terms of food bank us­age across the coun­try,” he says. “ We have six per cent of our pop­u­la­tion reg­u­larly ac­cess­ing food from one of the prov­ince’s 28 food banks; and there is lit­tle doubt that this time of the year, food banks will be even more taxed.”

But­ler fears the next few months more fam­i­lies will have to turn to food banks.

“Be­tween the eco­nomic down­turn and the fis­cally chal­leng­ing Christ­mas sea­son more peo­ple will be show­ing up atthe­food banks,” he said. “Al­ready, there are food banks that are short on sup­plies and the prob­lem will only worsen.”

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