Anti-poverty advocates respond to November 2018 provincial Throne Speech

The Speech from the Throne delivered by the Province of Manitoba on November 20, 2018 includes small steps toward addressing the consequences of poverty, but spoke little about real action to address root causes of poverty.  There was little to no mention of the growing addictions and meth crisis rooted in systemic poverty and social exclusion, a rapidly widening gap between the highest and lowest income earners, and child poverty rates that remain abysmal.

“This throne speech does not recommit to a poverty reduction strategy, which is very concerning. We are hopeful that in the upcoming legislative session, the provincial government will get serious about confronting the challenge of poverty in the province of Manitoba,” said Michael Barkman, Chair of Make Poverty History Manitoba, “We need real commitment through a strategy, resources, and budgetary measures in order to lift the nearly 146,000 Manitobans who live below the Market Basket Measure line out of poverty.”


Provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy

The government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is now a year and a half overdue according to provincial legislation, and we are expecting the government to release it within the next two months. Make Poverty History Manitoba (MPHM) greatly looks forward to the strategy, as government needs to focus resources and services to ending poverty. The Throne Speech ought to have put more emphasis on the need for a comprehensive strategy to end poverty, and we remain uncertain about its release date.

Employment and Income

Social assistance incomes have barely increased in two decades. They are so low that many people end up living in an ongoing state of crisis just to meet their basic needs, which makes it next to impossible to pursue training and jobs that would lead to financial independence. MPHM strongly recommends the government move toward a Livable Basic Needs Benefit that would lift Manitobans up to at least the poverty line. This would eliminate the welfare wall toward meaningful employment for Manitobans who are able to work, while ensuring that those who may not be able to work, including some Manitobans with disabilities, are not condemned to a life of poverty. All on social assistance should have enough benefits to live in dignity.

We commend the government for taking action on linking Manitobans on social assistance who are able to work with meaningful employment.  Government efforts to support people on social assistance to secure employment should be done by breaking down barriers to employment, providing seamless supports and benefits from assistance to work, and continue to be available if a job is lost for whatever reason. Programs must be voluntary and have utility for the participant, otherwise we risk returning to repressive “workfare” programs of the 1990s. Low income people are often doing precarious work (i.e. part time or seasonal). Asking people to find work requires good jobs to be available, but notably this government has no jobs strategy. More work needs to be done to support training, workforce development for people with barriers to the traditional labour market, and social enterprises – all important aspects of linking people on welfare who are able to work to meaningful employment.

To ensure a job is a pathway out of poverty, we need a minimum wage set at a living wage in our province at $15/hour, and commend the work done by $15 and Fairness Manitoba to move Manitoba in the direction of other jurisdictions across North America.

Housing

A lack of rent-geared-to-income  and affordable housing remains a serious issue in our province and an ongoing barrier to reducing poverty.  The provincial government must capitalize on the opportunity to bring money from the National Housing Strategy to Manitoba to build more housing. These dollars can be used to respond to our ongoing call for an increase in the supply of non-profit, rent-geared-to-income  housing by a minimum of 300 newly built units annually – the most sustainable housing option for groups the throne speech identified as having unique housing needs.

Mental Health and Addictions

The growing epidemic of meth use and crime is rooted in poverty, social exclusion, trauma, and inadequate  mental health supports for marginalized communities, particularly Indigenous people in Manitoba. It is encouraging to see support within the throne speech for acute mental health and addictions treatment through community-based mental health services but the ongoing lack of treatment beds remains an issue. The government must ensure that investments within the budget are made to support these services within communities, while not at the expense of other key health expenditures.

Childcare

Childcare is in critical need for families across Manitoba, remaining particularly costly for families with single parents and otherwise marginalized people. Our province needs nearly 17,000 new licensed and funded not-for-profit childcare spaces. Our coalition is concerned about the introduction of a Childcare Centre Tax Credit, as investment is needed right now for more not-for-profit spaces for Manitoban families.

Final Thoughts

The government should endeavour to meet with anti-poverty advocates through the Make Poverty History Manitoba coalition throughout the upcoming legislative session, as well as organizations, families, and individuals impacted by poverty on a daily basis. It is essential that the government be open to considering and evaluating the effects, both positive and negative, that are a result of the policies they implement.  We would be happy to share common concerns, as well as solutions developed by the community through the View From Here 2015.

The Throne Speech conclusion was correct – we must not run from challenges facing our province, we must confront them. Brighter days are ahead, but only if the government takes action on solutions addressing the root causes of social exclusion and poverty in Manitoba. Economic, social, and community development must be for all Manitobans. Poverty is too dire to leave anyone behind.

Make Poverty History Manitoba is a coalition of groups and individuals working to end poverty in Manitoba.

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