BEST OF THE BLOGS: Com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach needed to com­bat poverty

POL­ICY FIX

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - OPINION - By Kirsten Ber­nas

THANKS to com­mu­nity ad­vo­cacy, low-in­come Man­i­to­bans will have more money to help pay their rent. Three years ago, Make Poverty History Man­i­toba (MPHM) be­gan build­ing sup­port for in­creas­ing shel­ter ben­e­fits to 75 per cent of me­dian mar­ket rent. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment re­sponded, and as of this month, low-in­come peo­ple will have bet­ter ac­cess to a safe and af­ford­able place to live.

The MPHM coali­tion be­lieves sta­ble hous­ing is a ba­sic right and a ne­ces­sity for full par­tic­i­pa­tion in the com­mu­nity and econ­omy. But peo­ple on so­cial as­sis­tance have long been strug­gling to se­cure hous­ing be­cause the in­come they re­ceive to pay for shel­ter has not kept up with the cost of rent­ing in the pri­vate mar­ket. A lack of hous­ing se­cu­rity cre­ates a huge bar­rier to par­tic­i­pa­tion and suc­cess in ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment, which pro­vide im­por­tant path­ways out of poverty for those who are able to work.

More than 145 or­ga­ni­za­tions from across the province en­dorsed MPHM’s cam­paign to in­crease shel­ter ben­e­fits. The gov­ern­ment re­sponded in Bud­get 2014 with the in­tro­duc­tion of Rent As­sist — a new fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit — and a com­mit­ment to pro­vide a max­i­mum ben­e­fit equal to 75 per cent of me­dian mar­ket rent within four years.

Com­mu­nity lead­ers wel­comed the in­tro­duc­tion of Rent As­sist in 2014, but they em­pha­sized peo­ple liv­ing in poverty can­not wait any longer to get the as­sis­tance they need to se­cure hous­ing and the op­por­tu­ni­ties that come with it. They called on the gov­ern­ment to fully im­ple­ment Rent As­sist in Bud­get 2015.

While en­dorse­ments from the Man­i­toba Lib­eral and Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive par­ties helped move things for­ward, the NDP gov­ern­ment lis­tened to the com­mu­nity, ac­knowl­edged the ur­gency to act and re­sponded in Bud­get 2015 by com­mit­ting to reach the tar­get ben­e­fit level by the end of this year, with an ini­tial in­crease sched­uled for this month.

In­creas­ing shel­ter ben­e­fits has long been a com­mu­nity pri­or­ity, and Bud­get 2015’s record in­vest­ment gives the most vul­ner­a­ble Man­i­to­bans more of the sup­port they need to build a bet­ter life for them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

With the $22-mil­lion in­vest­ment, sin­gle adults can re­ceive up to $513, up from $435 per month for their rent. (A one-bed­room rental unit costs ap­prox­i­mately $780 in the pri­vate mar­ket.) Two­par­ent fam­i­lies with two chil­dren can re­ceive up to $742 per month. (A three-bed­room rental unit costs ap­prox­i­mately $1,160.)

When Rent As­sist is fully im­ple­mented this De­cem­ber, low-in­come Man­i­to­bans will feel an im­me­di­ate im­pact. The new ben­e­fit will play a key role in help­ing to en­sure they no longer have to choose be­tween mak­ing rent pay­ments and hav­ing enough food to eat — a choice even low-in­come fam­i­lies work­ing full time at min­i­mum wage have had to face. They, too, will feel some re­lief, as Rent As­sist is avail­able to all low-in­come Man­i­to­bans, not just those on so­cial as­sis­tance.

Mak­ing the ben­e­fit avail­able to peo­ple who are on so­cial as­sis­tance as well as peo­ple who aren’t rep­re­sents an in­no­va­tive ap­proach. This po­si­tions Man­i­toba as a leader in the de­liv­ery of shel­ter ben­e­fits, as we are one of the only prov­inces to ex­tend ben­e­fits to the work­ing poor. It sets the stage for peo­ple on so­cial as­sis­tance to more easily tran­si­tion off as­sis­tance and into em­ploy­ment, and, for some, even­tu­ally into fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence.

Rent As­sist is one piece of the puz­zle. It is a key com­po­nent of a pack­age of ac­tions MPHM has been call­ing on the province to im­ple­ment to re­duce poverty and so­cial ex­clu­sion in Man­i­toba. These ac­tions are out­lined in a com­mu­nity-based re­port called The View From Here. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has in­creased ef­forts in re­cent years to ad­dress poverty through a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach, with in­vest­ments in so­cial hous­ing, child care, train­ing and jobs for peo­ple with bar­ri­ers to em­ploy­ment, lit­er­acy and fund­ing for com­mu­nity-based poverty-re­duc­tion ef­forts.

Low-in­come rates in Man­i­toba have been on a down­ward trend over the last decade but per­sist at un­ac­cept­able lev­els. Poverty is a com­plex chal­lenge with no sil­ver bullet. It re­quires strong public ser­vices and sup­port for com­mu­nity-led ini­tia­tives that ad­dress the in­ter­re­lated fac­tors that con­trib­ute to poverty and so­cial ex­clu­sion. We need to build on ex­ist­ing public in­vest­ments that sup­port a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy if we are to achieve more sig­nif­i­cant re­sults.

As we head to­ward a pro­vin­cial elec­tion in the spring of 2016, MPHM will look be­yond Rent As­sist to see how each pro­vin­cial party will demon­strate its com­mit­ment to a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to ad­dress poverty in Man­i­toba. Kirsten Ber­nas is a steer­ing com­mit­tee mem­ber of MPHM and a re­search af­fil­i­ate at the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives — Man­i­toba. The

CCPA-MB’s blog is at pol­i­cy­fix.ca.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Anti- poverty ad­vo­cates rally at the front steps of the Man­i­toba leg­is­la­ture in April to de­mand the gov­ern­ment make poverty- re­duc­tion mea­sures a pri­or­ity.

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