Blog | February 07, 2012

Alleviating symptoms not enough: report

By Elisie Stolte, Edmonton JournalAlberta is working on a plan to reduce poverty, provincial Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said Monday in response to a new report estimating poverty costs the province $9.5 billion a year.He said the social policy framework Premier Alison Redford asked him to complete should be ready by this fall. One big question is: "What kind of a society do we want to have and what do we need to do to get there?" he said."How can you have a safe com-munity when the income gap gets wider?"A coalition released a report Mon-day that said poverty in Alberta costs $9.5 billion a year in increased hospital visits, crime and lower economic participation. Using Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off as a measure of poverty, they found 11 per cent of Alberta families live in poverty. For a family of four, that would mean living on less than $3,000 a month, after taxes. In 2009, Alberta's 148,000 low-income families lived on an average of $1,060 a month.The report's sponsors, Vibrant Communities Calgary and Action to End Poverty in Alberta, called on Redford to create a strategy to prevent poverty, not just reduce its effects.Hancock said his staff have started a review to see what has been done elsewhere. They've also started to talk with social agencies and are planning a broader consultation this summer. The resulting policy document will help re-evaluate all the departments' programs.Alexa Briggs, who co-authored the report released Monday, said reducing the cost of poverty is going to take a change in thinking. Alberta has focused on alleviating poverty, with programs like food banks, welfare and the 10-year plan to end homelessness, which makes cheap apartments available for those now living on the streets. Now the government needs to make preventing poverty its goal, Briggs said. It needs to invest more in programs such as language training for immigrants, post-secondary education grants and day care for low-income families.Many of those programs have seen funding cuts in previous budgets, said Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta, which participated in the study.The 2012-13 provincial budget, to be released Thursday, is expected to include a $400-per-month increase for those receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped. That's a start, Moore-Kilgannon said, but increasing low-income child-care spaces should also be key.The provincial government "is talking about results-based budgeting. Well, what results do you want?" Moore-Kilgannon said. "One of those results should be a clear reduction in poverty in Alberta." Moore-Kilgannon said Hancock has been vague on his social framework policy. Any strategy will need to include clear timelines and targets. Coun. Ben Henderson said Edmonton will soon start its own plan to reduce poverty, following in the footsteps of Calgary, Medicine Hat and several other cities in the province.Henderson, who was involved with the coalition's study through the Inter-City Forum on City Policy, said the city will build on its experience tackling homelessness and hopefully partner with the province.

By Elisie Stolte, Edmonton [email protected]/estolte

This article was published in the Edmonton Journal on February 7, 2012. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.