With a little more than a month to go before the election, the Saskatchewan government is officially launching a poverty reduction strategy.
The goal of the strategy is to reduce the number of people living in poverty by 50 per cent by 2025. Right now about 10 per cent of the population, or 107,000 people live in poverty.The plan focuses on six priority areas:
- Income Security
- Housing and Homelessness
- Early Childhood Development and Childcare
- Education, Skills Training and Employment
- Health and Food Security
- Vulnerable Families and Individuals
Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer says the first actions will include launching an early childhood development plan, expanding the housing first model, and redesigning provincial income assistance programs.
Harpauer admits it will be more of a challenge to take action on poverty while the government is facing at least two years of tight budgets and deficits, but says that’s no excuse not to try.
“A lot of our initiatives quite frankly is going to be coordination, and a lot of them are couched ‘when fiscally able,’” she said.
That means many of the plans, such as increasing earned income exemptions for social assistance and tax benefits, will have to be put on hold until the government can afford to pay for them.
Harpauer said some of the solutions may come from redesigning existing programs to make sure they are meeting targeted needs for the most-vulnerable people.
“We need to be quite creative and is there other models where we can maximize our dollars again by spending less dollars but leveraging some private dollars,” she said.
She used the HUB model as an example of coordinating existing programs to provide better service to people in need without spending a lot of extra money.
“When you don’t have a lot of dollars to work with, then you need to really target who is the most vulnerable and work with them and maximize the dollars that you have,” Harpauer said.
The strategy highlights many programs that are already in place across the province.
Harpauer said the federal government plan for dealing with poverty will also play a key role in what steps the province takes going forward.
“We need to dovetail onto what they’re going to identify as priority areas in order to maximize the dollars,” she said.
Education Minister Don Morgan also outlined some of the key focus areas in the Early Years Plan that is part of the poverty reduction strategy.
“We think it’s important for people, if they want to have employment, that they have good quality daycare to look after their children,” he said.
One of the short term plans is to create an accredited child care category for home daycares. Morgan explained that this will not go as far as requiring all daycares to be licensed, but it will mandate things like life-saving training, criminal record checks, and a system for reporting complaints to the government.
“Right now we’ve got an elaborate system of babysitters across the province, which probably do a very good job for the most part, but there’s no system of controls or ensuring that the safety of children is paramount,” Morgan said.
He said there will be consultations before the government decides on the threshold number of children that would require a home daycare to be accredited.
Another part of the plan is to offer home visits for special needs children to improve early diagnosis and intervention and direct them to programs.
The NDP Opposition is describing the poverty strategy as “brutally weak” and “vague”. In a news release, NDP Social Services critic David Forbes described the document as a disappointment, saying it only produced a list of statements about improving, strengthening and exploring options instead of concrete plans.
“Nothing in this report is giving funding or other concretes,” Forbes said in the release.
He also called out the SaskParty for admitting that some of the issues like domestic violence won’t get more funding until the province is fiscally able to pay for it.