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Category: Poverty and Housing

Renters of Saskatoon and Area (ROSA) on Provincial Renting Concerns

 

Renters of Saskatoon and Area (ROSA) is a grass-roots group of renters and allies, formed over 2 years ago. We have prioritized a few of our many renter concerns here.

Saskatchewan’s rental housing market has failed to meet the needs of low income and marginalized renters in both the boom and bust times. A generation of renters of all ages have indeed already paid through lost job and education opportunities, personal, health and financial loss, precarious and subsistence living, and homelessness. Austerity, and poverty, affects us unequally. Renters continue to fall through the holes in Saskatchewan’s housing safety net. Investments are needed especially in times of economic troubles, to prevent further unequal offloading onto disadvantaged renters.

We call on the Premier to:

  1. Support the development of rental literacy awareness and support systems, to help renters find and keep affordable, appropriate rental housing
  2. Invest in, and protect low-income renters now more than ever, through expanded rental housing supplements, supports and rent-geared-to-income housing developments
  3. and Ensure a fair, dignified, rights-based rental housing system for all.

The planning of just and equitable changes to our rental systems must include the voices of the vulnerable, lived experience renters, for good business management of our shared resources, and to fairly transform Saskatchewan for all.

Recommendations:

A). Rights and Responsibilities:  Presently, a shortage of basic rental literacy skills on the part of both landlords and renters costs too much for both parties, and for the overall community. A lack of timely access to appropriate supports and consumer protections are preventable barriers to housing security, and sustainable, low-income rental housing stock. Investing now, with community engagement, in inclusive, successful and transformative system changes and practices such as the Ready to RentBC model, can save money, prevent homelessness, and build stability and sustainability for landlords and tenants.

The renters have said that more supports are needed for awareness of the rights of marginalized renters, including increasing awareness among small rental businesses that lack  awareness of rights and responsibilities.  Measures to increase the accountability of some market landlords who systematically take advantage of disadvantaged renters, and better renter protections and transparency in the handling of security deposits, would make renters’ lives better.

B). Discrimination: Another renter concern is discrimination particularly when trying to get housing. We are all treaty people! Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibitions of discrimination in rental housing must be better ensured and enforced, for all citizens regardless of race, country of origin or other protected categories.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights definition of protections from discrimination for those on income programs as ‘in receipt of Social Assistance’, must be expanded to match Alberta’s definition ‘based on source of income’ to fairly protect clients of other low income programs too.  Increasing awareness online and through other measures, such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s range of awareness promotions, can create a more inclusive, safe and productive community.

Enforcement of these systematic marketplace discriminations is too great a burden to ask vulnerable renters to carry.  A new, timely and accessible enforcement system is needed, particularly when applying for housing.

C). Advocates:  Increased access is needed to qualified advocates and support services, and increased funding for training and sustainability of this relatively cost-effective community-based asset for marginalized renters.  Investing in more affordable conflict resolution alternatives, like mediation, could help reduce court time, and money for all.

D). Affordability:  “We simply can’t afford the costs of poverty” – Trevor Hancock, 2015.

Renters even in this high-vacancy market still have to worry about stability and affordability of housing options for themselves, their children and their elders. Protecting and strengthening the renter economy can be achieved by supplementing inadequate income programs and precarious wages in a more timely way to cover actual rent when it does increase, a common renter concern, whether increasing due to unmanaged gentrification,  wider market fluctuations, or other pressures. Targeted, direct investment is needed now to restore and expand the portable Rental Housing Supplement benefit and extra shelter funds to cover the actual rent of all previously eligible renters.

E). Rent-Geared to Income: Preserving existing affordable rental housing and expanding sustainable funding for maintenance and energy efficiency is needed for Saskatchewan Housing Corporation’s housing and renovation programs, part of our valuable social safety net for the growing and changing needs of Saskatchewan’s marginalized renters. Ongoing investment is needed now to develop complete social rental housing developments (rent-geared-to-income with services and features). It needs to be reserved for vulnerable renters in a range of household needs and sizes, in locations that meet the renters needs, like schools and affordable transportation (aligning with a rights-based system) to support the health, wellbeing, inclusion and education of our future generations.

F). Renter supports for safe housing: Finding and holding onto safe, healthy and pest-free housing is an overwhelming burden for disadvantaged renter households. This is the result of barriers like inadequate incomes to cover the sudden costs of housing emergencies, transportation, extra supplies, caregiving, and sometimes 24 hour relocation , or barriers maybe due to lacking health or abilities for the labour and organizing challenges of pest and mold preventions and treatments.  Subsidized, supportive community services are needed, along with increased investment in pest prevention and treatment research, and public health protection services, to preserve and protect our affordable rental housing stock.

G). Appropriate housing needs: Access must be improved to disability supports including transportation, to find, or develop disability-appropriate and barrier-free rental accommodations close to needed services and community supports. Increased funding for renovations for physical accessibility needs such as bathrooms, entrances or maintenance supports would provide dignity, health and safety, so renters can age in place. Rental housing is needed with more bedrooms and bathrooms for larger, culturally appropriate or multigenerational household options, along with affordable, age-appropriate 1 bedrooms for vulnerable single occupancy households under 65. Renters have also called for rental housing that is pet-friendly, along with pet-free and smoke-free housing for disability needs.

SOURCES

http://www.readytorentbc.org/model/

http://vibrantcanada.ca/files/povertycostssaskatchewan_povertycosts_2014_s.pdf

http://saskatchewanhumanrights.ca/learn/the-human-rights-code

 

Dr. Andrew Stevens on urban renewal and infrastructure

It’s tough to figure out where we should start. First off, real “transformational change” would include an ambitious homelessness strategy that makes massive financial commitments for Housing First initiatives that are already off the ground in Regina and Saskatoon. Included in this funding arrangement would be resources adequate to provide wrap around services in addition to investments in social and affordable housing.

Second, our province needs a rigorous urban infrastructure renewal strategy, one that looks at modernizing “conventional” civic infrastructure like sewer and water systems, along with roads. To this list I would add investments in public transit operational and capital expenditures. The province desperately needs to boost investments in green infrastructure, which includes retrofitting provincial and municipal buildings through a dedicated capital fund on top of a growing municipal operating grant. To this end SaskEnergy and SaskPower should be tasked with leading this programme on a wider scale across the province, with money being spent on wind, solar, and thermal power systems. Our universities in Saskatoon and Regina, along with the Sask Polytechnics, should be enriched with funds to launch renewable energy centres of excellence. Here, we could attract skilled trades, engineers, social scientists, and policy experts to make our province a leader in green energy policy, infrastructure, design, and construction.

Third, Saskatchewan needs to boost the amount of educational and settlement supports services for newcomers, which includes foreign workers, refugees, and permanent residents. This involves investing more money in ESL programmes in the community and in our province’s public education system. Documents related to accessing public services, employment standards, labour relations, housing, health care, and occupational safety should be translated into various languages.

Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer on Food Insecurity

As a researcher who works in the area of household food insecurity, I would like to see policy and programs that ensure everyone is able to have the financial means to access the food they need to be healthy (whatever that means to them). This means ensuring we have a living wage in this province (rather the current wholly inadequate minimum wage), and providing assistance to those who cannot work that guarantees their ability to meet their basic needs (some sort of guaranteed minimum income that reflects the cost of living). Poverty is closely linked with food insecurity and both are closely linked with poor health, and poor educational and social outcomes in children. Rather than cut supports when people need them the most which creates other problems that cost money to rectify (in the health, social services and justice sectors for example), why not deal with the root of the problem and give everyone the means to fully participate in our communities? Dealing with root causes of problems we face as a society is the kind of transformational change I would like to see put forward.

Regina’s Making Peace Vigil on eliminating homelessness

HOMELESS IN SASKATCHEWAN

Currently, Saskatchewan is experiencing a homelessness crisis. Saskatoon’s 2015 point-in-time count found 450 people were homeless, a 19% increase over the previous count. In Regina, the YWCA is currently compiling a registry of homeless people. So far there are 240 names on the list.

These figures do not include the hidden homeless—people who are double-bunking or couch-surfing—numbers that could double or triple the homeless figures. The situation is so bad that, over the summer, tent cities sprang up in both Saskatoon and Regina.

As we hope to show, eliminating homelessness is a “transformational change” that will make Saskatchewan a happier, healthier, and more prosperous place for all. It is a way to move Saskatchewan forward.

THE RICH GET RICHER
The economic bust we are now experiencing is no excuse for not acting to eradicate homelessness. Saskatchewan is still a reasonably well-off place, even in bust times.

Moreover, Saskatchewan’s homelessness crisis began during boom times, when economic expansion and a growing population resulted in sharp increases in rents. In both Regina and Saskatoon, rents have almost doubled since 2006 and they are still going up.

In other words, our short-lived economic boom caused the homelessness crisis. We did not address it when we were flush with money. Instead, some of us got richer, while others of us lost a roof over our heads.

INEQUALITY IS BAD FOR EVERYONE
Numerous studies have shown that more equal societies are healthier and more cohesive—that societies where there is a large gap between rich and poor are bad for everyone, including the better-off. For example, in more unequal societies, the rates of mental illness and violent crime are not just higher amongst those at the bottom, but across the whole population. Health problems are also more generally common in societies where there is more inequality, and life expectancy is lower.

A large wealth gap also costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually. Homelessness is especially expensive, both in its direct costs (shelters) and its indirect costs (health services and policing).

There is, in addition, the Gandhian perspective on wealth inequality: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” At the time of writing (mid-December—it’s -20°C), there are still folks living in tents in Regina. This is unnecessary and unconscionable!

REDUCING INEQUALITY
How can we eliminate homelessness in Saskatchewan? Providing more emergency shelter beds is not the answer.

• Shelters are often not safe.
• Shelters do not allow for self-reliance or a sense of dignity.
• A shelter bed is not a home. A home is more than a place to sleep. It is a place where one can be any time one chooses and where one can keep one’s possessions—conditions not met by shelters, where, typically, folks have to be out of the building between 9 am and 6 pm, taking all their possessions with them.
• It is much less expensive to provide people with housing, than it is to keep them in a shelter.

Rather, we need to adopt policies that will narrow the gap between rich and poor people in Saskatchewan. For example:

1. Provide more affordable and adequate rental housing: The provincial government needs to work with both the federal government and provincial municipalities to provide more affordable and adequate rental housing, sometimes called social housing. The provincial stock of social housing has been both decreasing and deteriorating since the 1990s.

2. Provide funding for Housing First programs: Saskatoon and Regina already have Housing First programs. They are, however, funded (almost) solely by the federal government, with little or no provincial or municipal input. As a result, they are badly underfunded and lack the capacity to house more than a few dozen people in each city. Apartment availability is no problem at the moment, as vacancy rates are well above 3%, which is considered normal, with Regina at 5.5% and Saskatoon at 10.3%.

3. Increase the income of low income earners: Low income earners need more income so they can afford rising rents. The commonly accepted definition of “affordability” is housing that costs a household 30% or less of its income.

4. Raise the minimum wage, making it a living wage: On October 1 2016, the minimum wage in Saskatchewan was raised from $10.50 to $10.72 per hour. This measly 22 cent increase hasn’t done much to help low-income earner’s frail standard of living. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Regina is $926, hardly affordable for a full-time minimum wage worker earning $1,863 per month.

A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs, including housing, food, clothing, and transport. Regina’s living wage is $16.46 an hour, while Saskatoon’s is $16.77.

5. Make Income Service Benefits adequate: For example:
a) Raise the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan rate so it meets basic needs—i.e. is above the poverty line—and then index it to the cost of living.
b) Reverse the cuts to the SAID program for all recipients, then raise the SAID rate so it meets basic needs and index it to the cost of living.

THE ROBIN HOOD EFFECT
As for paying for this “transformational change,” that’s the easy part—even in these times of economic downturn.

1. Raise taxes on the wealthier classes.

2. Recover the tax dollars Cameco (and possibly other corporations, as well as individuals) have been avoiding/evading paying.

Such policies redistribute income so that economic inequality is reduced. The outcome is known as the Robin Hood effect.

In other words, the Government of Saskatchewan needs to be like Robin Hood (rather than Robin Hood in reverse). Instead of increasing inequality through its policies, it must work to reduce inequality and, by so doing, eliminate homelessness. Until this happens—until the wealth gap is considerably narrowed—Saskatchewan will continue to move backwards.

Peter, middle-aged white man, sitting in an empty church, looking at camera.

Brief to SaskForward: Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry

By Peter Gilmer, Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry.

 

Introduction

The Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry (RAPM) is a social justice ministry of Wascana Presbytery of the United Church of Canada.  Bonnie Morton and myself work for a board which is a cross-section of church members, representatives of community groups that deal with poverty issues and first voice volunteers.  Our board has always had at least one third of its membership being low-income people.

RAPM does its work in three areas which are individual advocacy, public education and social justice.  Individual advocacy involves providing support for low-income individuals and families to ensure that they are receiving those benefits that they are entitled to and that they are being treated fairly by the institutions that they are dealing with.  Public education involves providing educational workshops and resources on poverty issues and social justice involves consulting and working with low-income people and community partners to develop and promote public policies that would move us toward the elimination of poverty in Saskatchewan.

In our individual advocacy casework, we have been handling over 2000 cases per year.  While people contact our office for many different reasons, there is one common denominator.  Virtually everyone who requests our individual advocacy services have incomes that are too low and costs for basic needs that are too high.  Though it is not said often enough, it should be obvious that a major problem for low-income people is that their incomes are too low.  The other side of the problem is rising costs for necessities.

We cannot eliminate or even combat poverty without a plan.  That is why a comprehensive strategy is so important.  At the same there are very specific ingredients to such a strategy that will be essential for its success.

Since 1997, RAPM has identified key anti-poverty proposals through extensive consultation with low-income people and community groups dealing with poverty issues.  The following proposals arise time after time.  They are adequate income security benefits, a living wage, quality and affordable housing and childcare, equity initiatives and fair taxation.

We have taken these proposals for debate through the courts of the United Church so that they have become the official positions of Saskatchewan Conference of the United Church of Canada.  They are also positions that fall within the framework of human rights.

  1. Economic Rights

Poverty is a human rights violation.  In 1976, Canada with the approval of all the provinces, signed the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Article 11 of this covenant recognizes the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their family, including adequate food, clothing and housing and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.  Article 7 of the covenant recognizes the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work which ensure all workers with fair wages for a decent living for themselves and their families as well as equal remuneration for work of equal value.

This means that issues such as adequate income security benefits, a living wage, quality and affordable housing and childcare and pay equity are not just social policy concerns.  These are basic human rights.  Social and economic rights are human rights that the federal and provincial governments are obligated to uphold.  The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been very critical of Canada and the provinces for not ensuring these rights in such a wealthy nation.

Saskatchewan needs to entrench these rights in enforceable legislation.  We also need an agency with legislative teeth to monitor compliance.

  1. Adequate Income Security Benefits

When we allow social assistance rates to be set too low we are legislating poverty.  Saskatchewan went 24 years without a significant increase to social assistance rates.  Between 1981 and 2005 the basic allowance was never above $195 per month which works out to $6.50 per day for food, clothing, personal and household items as well as transportation.  Between 2005 and 2007, with a strong push from our organization and others, there was a $60 increase to $255 per month.  Unfortunately it remains at that rate today.  The cost of living has risen drastically in the past eight years but the basic allowance has not.  Saskatchewan Assistance Plan (SAP) rates must be raised to meet basic needs and then indexed to the cost of living.

More recently we have seen the introduction of the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) Program for persons with significant and enduring disabilities.  It is more dignified and less intrusive than SAP and now has benefit rates that are $350 per month higher.  Despite these improvements, it still falls thousands of dollars per year below the poverty line.  It should be set at a socially acceptable rate, similar to seniors benefits or approximately $1600 per month and then indexed to the cost of living.

As inadequate as SAP is, it is actually better than the Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA).  TEA is the social assistance program for persons who are considered potentially employable and we have called for its elimination.  TEA is based on SAP rates for adult and shelter allowances but is even less adequate because it has capped rates for utilities and no provision for special needs.  It is also ironic that a program called the Transitional Employment Allowance claws back all earned income dollar for dollar.

Along with benefit levels that take actual cost of living indicators into consideration, we also believe that those on income security programs should be allowed to keep considerably more earned income and other income and assets before it is deducted from their benefits.  Wage exemptions should at least be doubled and simplified with a flat rate.  All exemptions and special needs benefits should also be indexed.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of the idea of a basic income program.  A basic income is an unconditional, adequate income to ensure a life with dignity and self-determination for everyone.  It would provide a floor of economic security to which other forms of income could be added.  A basic income would provide financial recognition and remuneration to those individuals who perform essential, socially valuable work that is unpaid, such as family caregivers and community volunteers.  It is time we redefined productivity.

RAPM understands that such a program is not on the immediate horizon and wants to ensure that present income security measures are enhanced in the mean time.  However, we do believe that Saskatchewan could move in a basic income direction.  The implementation of a universal basic income supplement to provide greater adequacy of income would go a long way toward promoting the idea that a decent income should be a right of citizenship like medicare or public education.

Saskatchewan has a rich history of creating progressive and universal social programs which have become a model for the rest of Canada and a universal basic income supplement would allow us to build on that proud tradition.

  1. A Living Wage

A socially adequate or living wage is an essential component of any effective anti-poverty strategy. It is also a necessary protection for the lowest income workers. That is why the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to remuneration, which provides workers with fair wages to provide a decent living for themselves and their families.

With a minimum wage of $10.72 per hour, Saskatchewan is once again near the lowest minimum wage in Canada. Since 2007, Regina food and housing costs increased by 45% while the minimum wage increased by only 28%. Therefore, many minimum wage earners are worse off than they were eight years ago.

According to the Saskatchewan Branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a living wage for a Regina family with two working parents and two children was $16.46 in 2012. At present approximately 25,000 people work at the minimum wage in Saskatchewan. Many more people work in low-wage employment as 23% of Regina households earned less than the CCPA living wage in 2011. Minimum wage increases provide a positive ripple effect of higher wages for low-wage earners as employers attempt to maintain a structure of wage differentials among categories of employees.

Almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women. A living wage would help reduce the wage gap between men and women.

Members of other equity seeking groups are also more likely to work at or just above the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage creates greater equity between groups in our society.

There is no empirical evidence that minimum wage increases reduce employment.  However, some research indicates that employment actually expands when the minimum wage is increased.  Princeton economists David Card and Allan B. Kruegar came to this conclusion when they studied the impact of a large minimum wage increase on fast-food restaurant employment. In New Jersey, a minimum wage of 19% was followed by an increase in minimum wage employment. In neighbouring Pennsylvania, which did not follow suit, minimum wage employment lagged behind. Card and Krueger concluded that New Jersey’s increase in in the minimum wage increased employment in that state. There is good reason for this. Low-income people spend all their money in the local economy. Boosting their incomes boosts economic activity to create jobs.

In 1975, Saskatchewan’s minimum wage was the equivalent of 119% of the poverty  line. If it had been indexed at that point it would be over $12 per hour now.

Throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Saskatchewan government maintained a minimum wage that was the highest or among the highest in Canada. Between 1971 and 1982, Saskatchewan’s minimum wage was increased fourteen times, tripling it in the process.

As part of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy we call on the Government of Saskatchewan to set the highest minimum wage in Canada with the long term goal of an actual living wage.

  1. Affordable Housing

The biggest growth in RAPM’s casework since 2006 has come in the areas of rental coverage, availability and conditions as the crisis of a lack of affordable housing for low-income people continues.

Between 2006 and 2010, average rent went up by 43% in Regina.  The next three years saw an additional 20% increase.  In 2010, the last year for which figures are available, over 3,400 people used Regina shelter beds.  If the hidden homeless (those who are couch surfing, in overcrowded accommodations or living rough) are factored in it is estimated that this number would double.

Behind these statistics is tremendous human misery that we encounter every day.  We must consider what is needed to make a truly comprehensive housing strategy that benefits all citizens.  First of all, we need to ensure that we maintain the traditional Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation definition of affordable housing as not exceeding 30% of household income.  Housing cannot be considered affordable just because it is at or below average market rent.  Skyrocketing rents in recent years have meant that average market rent is far beyond the means of the people we work with.  There needs to be a priority given to social housing where rent is geared to income.  There must be substantial additional public funding to facilitate the acquisition and creation of a large number of social housing units for low-income individuals and families.  Facilitating this expansion should be a top priority for all levels of government.

Long before the rental availability and affordability crisis, Saskatchewan faced the problem of having many sub-standard, ill-maintained rental properties.  The present rental market has meant that low-income tenants are now in an extremely vulnerable position when it comes to addressing rental conditions because their options are so limited.  There is a need for rental unit licensing and/or a rental unit inspection program to ensure explicit quality standards for all rental properties.

RAPM continues its call for rent control legislation on low and mid-range accommodations.  At present the only regulations involve how frequently rents can be increased.  What is needed is control on how much rents can be increased in a given year.  At present, 80% of Canadians live in jurisdictions with rent controls but we do not.  Rental increases have caused tremendous hardship for many low-income people and tenants need protection.

RAPM has always pushed for enhanced shelter allowances and rental supplements and will continue to do so.  However, there are many other basic needs that income security benefits should be meeting rather than largely ending up in the hands of landlords.  Rent controls combined with social housing would lead us in the direction of being better able to ensure all basic needs could be met.  Surely a reasonable accommodation can be reached between property owners, tenants and the province regarding limits on rental increases. Generally those with wealth and power can defend their own interests but governments have a vital responsibility to protect those who cannot.

  1. Quality Childcare

Quality and affordable childcare is an essential ingredient in the workplace participation of parents with young children–especially mothers. In Scandinavian countries a single mother and her children are no more likely to live in poverty than any other household due to family friendly policies with childcare as the centrepiece. In Saskatchewan, over 40% of female headed lone-parent families live in poverty.

Quality childcare is also an excellent way to provide better early childhood education that ensures that all children have an equal chance at good development.

We are still in need of a national childcare program. In the meantime there should be increased provincial funding for more regulated childcare spaces and enhanced childcare subsidies for families.

Unfortunately Saskatchewan continues to do very poorly on this front. At 7.6% Saskatchewan has the lowest percentage of children for whom there are regulated childcare spaces in Canada. The national average is 20.5% and Quebec has 37.4%. Indeed of the provincial/ territorial allocations to regulated childcare, Quebec accounted for 60% of the total. This has not only allowed them to have over 85,000 regulated spaces, it has allowed them to set an affordable parent portion for childcare costs.

In their study of a living wage for a typical family of four in Regina, the CCPA found that childcare was a close second to housing as the highest cost factor for such a family. We should move as quickly as possible toward Quebec’s model of affordable childcare. At the same time we should set the short term goal of doubling regulated childcare spaces with properly trained and justly paid staff.

  1. Equity Initiatives

There continue to be groups who disproportionately bear the brunt of poverty in Saskatchewan. That is why we must ensure greater economic equity for First Nations and Metis peoples, new Canadians, women, and persons with disabilities.

The socio-economic gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people continues to be the biggest gap of all in Saskatchewan. This gap must be closed given that Saskatchewan’s economic , political and cultural future will be largely shaped by todays First Nations and Metis children and youth.

According to figures released last year, the First Nations unemployment rate was roughly 15% compared to 4.4% for the province as a whole. More than 18,000 First Nations adults in the province remain on social assistance, the same level as five years ago. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 29% of Aboriginal persons had low-incomes compared with 12.2% for non-Aboriginal people.

Obviously we need representative workplace and retention programs to break down systemic barriers including discrimination. We also have to consider revenue sharing with First Nations as an essential part of an anti-poverty strategy. First Nations people continue to suffer negative social and economic consequences because of colonial oppression. They have consistently asked for a share of the bountiful wealth of this province which is derived from the resources of the land. We therefore call upon the Government of Saskatchewan to enter into meaningful discussions on resource revenue sharing with First Nations.

Recent immigrants to the province, those who arrived since 2001, had a low-income rate of 24.3% in 2011. Persons with disabilities are also dealing with unacceptably high rates of unemployment. Along with Aboriginal people and women these groups need to be fully included in representative workplace strategies.

We also continue to call for pay equity legislation. The purpose of such legislation is to close the wage gap by ensuring female-dominated jobs are paid fairly in relation to male-dominated jobs. This legislation should be proactive as opposed to complaints based and it should be comprehensive, covering all classifications of employees. The legislation should be administered by a Pay Equity Commission and there should also be an independent tribunal created to deal with litigation under the legislation. Saskatchewan women deserve nothing less.

  1. Fair Taxation: Closing the Gap

There is no avoiding the fact that poverty elimination is impossible without a more equitable distribution of wealth and income. There are many social needs that can only be met by an increase in public revenues.  Housing, childcare and income security programs have to be paid for if we are to ensure that peoples basic needs are met.

Saskatchewan has a high rate of income inequality. A 2009 study by the Saskatchewan Branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives showed that Saskatchewan had the widest income gap between the richest and poorest 10% of families with children in Canada. It also showed that the richest 20% of Saskatchewan residents received 43% of all after tax income compared to 5% for the poorest 20%. This only shows a small part of the disparity as wealth inequality over time would be much greater.

According to the Canadian Association of Food Banks, Saskatchewan had the largest growth of food bank usage (26.6%) between March 2008 and March 2013 in Canada. This period also saw a significant growth of millionaires in the province.

There is a growing body of public health research that shows that beyond a minimal amount of wealth, the health and quality of life of a society depends less on its overall wealth than on how equitably its wealth is distributed.

In their book, “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better”, epidemiologists Richard Wilkenson and Kate Pickett show that those societies with less income inequality have higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality, better general health and mental health, fewer addictions, better literacy and education rates, less crime, less violence, higher status of women, higher levels of trust, greater amounts of international aid and greater environmental sustainability.

Perhaps what is most surprising about the findings is that it is not just low-income people that benefit but that every stratum of society including the richest are better off in more equal societies. In fact, the evidence suggests that every level of society is equally better off in relation to these and many other indicators as equality grows.

The research shows what many of us have morally or intuitively believed. Equality is good and growing economic inequality is very bad. The gaps between us tear the social fabric, breakdown community, are very costly and diminish us all.

At present, we only have three personal income tax brackets in Saskatchewan ranging from 11% to 15%. The top tax bracket kicks in around $120,000. This means that whether you made that much or are a millionaire you are in the same tax bracket. We believe that a progressive graduated tax system with at least another bracket would be more just and equitable.

When it comes to lost revenue an even bigger concern is low royalty rates on our non-renewable resources. Small changes in royalty rates shift millions of dollars to either public services and social programs or resource company profits. Given that these are non-renewable resources that should advance the common good of the people of Saskatchewan, we need to get the best return possible because when they are gone, they are gone forever. A better return could go a long way toward the enhancement of social programs and the elimination of poverty.

On the door on the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry is a sign that states, “The existence of poverty is shameful. To be poor is not.”  Poverty is not a choice. It is legislated. It is the result of public policy and economic inequality. But there is hope because there are policy alternatives and we have the wealth and resources to end poverty. We can have a more just, equitable and humane Saskatchewan. What is need is the public and political will to make that happen. Together lets make it happen. Let’s make poverty history!

 

Bibliography

Canadian Food Banks Association, Hungercount 2013, p. 7 and 28.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Rental Market Report, Regina, October 2011 and October 2014.

Card, D. And Kruegar, A. (September 1994). Minimum Wage and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The American Economic Review.

Ferns, C. And Friendly, M. (2014). The state of early childhood education and care in Canada 2012. Moving Childcare Forward Project (a joint initiative of the Childcare Resource Unit, Centre for Work, Families and Well-Being at the University of Guelph and the Department of Sociology at the University of Manitoba).

Gingrich, P. (September 2009). Boom and Bust: The Growing Income Gap in Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Gingrich, P., Enoch, S. & Banks, B. (2014). A Living Wage for Regina, The Saskatchewan Branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

National Council of Welfare, Preschool Children: Promises to Keep (Spring 1998) Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, Ottawa.

Statistics Canada, CANSIM 282-0073 and 282-0074.

Statistics Canada, National Household Survey 2011.

United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Part III; articles 7 and 11

Warick, J. (April 13, 2015). Aboriginal employment stagnant economist says. The Star Phoenix as shown in the Regina Leader Post.

Wilkenson, R. And Pickett, K. (2009). The Spirit Level: Why more Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. (London: Allen Lane).