Food allowance increase fails to solve anything for Islanders in need
Guest opinion: The P.E.I. Coalition for a Poverty Eradication Strategy and its more than 20 member groups is shocked by the latest announcement of what is called an increase in the food allowance of Social Assistance recipients. If we do the math we’ll see that it can’t be considered a real increase. The announcement states that recipients will receive an additional $2.8 million for food over five years, or $9 per month.
How can that be an increase when the Department of Community Services and Seniors gave up $2.3 million in the 2013-14 budget in unspent money and therefore lost an additional $2 million in the 2014-15 budget? So a loss of $4.3 million to the Social Assistance budget over a two year period is supposed to be made up with a $2.8 million increase spread over five years and earmarked for food only.
It doesn’t add up and it doesn’t even include the HST charges people paid over the past year and will continue to pay. This so-called increase will hardly assure a healthy diet. The need for adequate shelter, heat, transportation, personal and household items, and essential home repairs is not even addressed.
In its Social Action Plan the Department of Community Services and Seniors will only bring food needs up to 70% of the Research Suggested Rates (RSR) over 5 years. After that it will be tied to the Consumer Price Index. If families are 30 percent below the RSR, what will this really do for the 25 pr cent of Island school children who go to school and to bed hungry?
Where is the compassion in this policy? It appears to be a merely smoke and mirrors exercise. Recent comparative reports of provinces reveal that with only a few exceptions this province lags badly behind the others on more than food security. The government guesstimate that food insecurity can be solved with an injection of $8 million doesn’t make any sense because the other basic needs are not included. The direct cost of poverty to the province annually is $100 million. Add the indirect costs and it becomes at least $315 million.
We ask how this arrangement could ever fit the definition of social action which is about justice especially for the poorest and therefore most oppressed citizens among us? If the province got serious and decided to adopt a Poverty Eradication Strategy eliminating poverty would cost about $60 million per year, an estimated saving of $40 million in direct costs and $215 million if we count the indirect costs.
So the very high cost of doing nothing is clear. Eradicating poverty would also relieve its accompanying suffering and illness and allow the people to enjoy their God-given right to a full and happy life.
The problems associated with poverty add up to enormous stress that takes a heavy toll on those who experience it. No child chooses to be born of poor parents. Poverty is not the fault of individuals.
Canada Without Poverty tells us that the current Ontario government endorses the responsibilities of signing the 1976 UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights signed by the federal government and the provinces. It states that those who are in poverty are entitled to a higher standard of living and it is government’s responsibility to deliver it.
The UN calls on Canada to strive to eliminate poverty by developing and implementing a plan in consultation with people in poverty including measurable goals and timelines, accountability mechanisms and a means by which those in poverty can claim their rights through courts, tribunals, parliamentary proceedings, local councils or ombudsmen.
This is similar to the poverty eradication strategy our coalition has been recommending for several years. We urge those responsible within the P.E.I. government to also endorse the responsibility of signing the Covenant and take responsibility to implement this strategy.
Mary Boyd is a member of P.E.I. Coalition for a Poverty Eradication Strategy