Participating in a news conference to recognize International Eradication of Poverty Day Oct. 16, were (from left): Peter Gilmer of the United Church Anti-Poverty Ministry, Joanne Havelock of Poverty Free Saskatchewan, and Steve Compton of the Regina Food Bank. (Frank Flegel photo)
REGINA — Anti-poverty groups believe legislation is needed to promote poverty reduction, and it should be accompanied by an agency to monitor it.
Three groups involved in trying to reduce and eliminate poverty held a news conference here Oct. 16 to recognize International Eradication of Poverty Day. Joanne Havelock of Poverty Free Saskatchewan, Peter Gilmer of the Regina Anti Poverty Ministry of the United Church and Regina Food Bank CEO Steve Compton all believe the cuts to social service programs proposed by the Saskatchewan government will have a disastrous effect on the poor.
Havelock spoke first to reporters. “It’s not just about money,” said Havelock. The poor “are unable to participate in society.”
She noted that even in boom times there is a high rate of poverty, and increasing housing prices during boom years leaves fewer low-income housing options for the poor.
Gilmer said poverty is a human rights issue and quoted the 1976 United Nations covenant that Canada signed. “We need an anti-poverty act to enforce what has been agreed to internationally.”
He also called for an adequate livable minimum wage, suggesting $15 per hour and indexed, and a fair taxation system for better distribution of wealth. Saskatchewan’s minimum wage went to $10.72 per hour Oct. 1, and is indexed to the CPI.
Recently announced cuts to Social Service programs by the Saskatchewan government, currently on hold, need to be reversed, said Gilmer. “Cuts are short-sighted and will be more costly in the long run. In 20 years of working in anti-poverty ministry I have never had so much feedback to the cuts.”
The existence of poverty, said Gilmer is not a choice; it is the result of legislation.
Compton said demands on the Food Bank have increased by 500 a month recently to more than 9,000 using its services. “Single females with children, single men, and indigenous people are the highest percentage of those who come to us and 60 per cent of those are under 16.”
He, too, said low-income housing is a problem for most of them. “The average rent is about $1,000 a month and that doesn’t match with support.”
He suggested the government should institute a specific food allowance so people can afford healthy food because food is often the first thing cut from a budget. “Food banks don’t eliminate the need to purchase food.” Programs also should have some elasticity because one size does not fit all and it should be a co-ordinated effort, said Compton.
All noted the basic food basket for Regina requires an hourly wage of about $16.95 according to 2015 figures. The group also said Saskatchewan should be a leader among Canadian provinces and have minimum wage of $15 per hour.