Missing the poverty target
Government hiding the real face of poverty; opposition
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
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.”