Poverty costs economy $3.8 billion a year

By Frank Flegel

REGINA — A relatively new Saskatchewan research organization based in Saskatoon says poverty in Saskatchewan costs the provincial economy about $3.8 billion a year. That’s the message Upstream Policy Director Charles Plante brought to a Sept. 17 public lecture delivered to the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. The lecture was delivered in Saskatoon and live streamed to an audience at the University of Regina.

Upstream was founded in September 2013 by Dr. Ryan Meili, a physician in the Saskatoon Community Clinic’s west side branch. It refers to itself as an Institute for a Healthy Society and researches ways that poverty has an impact on health and social well-being. It also promotes the establishment of Comprehensive Poverty Reduction Strategies (CPRS) which it believes helps reduce poverty and improve health and social outcomes.

Saskatchewan is one of two provinces without a CPRS, but in an interview with the PM Plante said Upstream has been working with the Saskatchewan government to get a CPRS in place.

Plante said in his lecture that the $3.8 billion was arrived at using the process in the Nathan Laurie report done for the Ontario Food Banks that defined how poverty has an impact on health and social well-being in that province. Saskatchewan’s $3.8 billion figure was made of $1.2 billion cost in health, social welfare and criminal justice payments and $2.6 billion in missed opportunities.

“When people are living in poverty they don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of the opportunities the rest of us take for granted,” he said in the interview.

“Saskatchewan could spend $3.2 billion on poverty reduction strategies and remain in the black,” he told his audience. “Comprehensive Poverty Reduction Strategies are considered the place to start,” because previous attempts at poverty reduction have not worked. Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick have experienced various degrees of success with their CPRS and noted that child poverty rates in Ontario and Quebec have been reduced and poverty among off-reserve First Nations people in Manitoba has been substantially reduced.

He frequently referred to Quebec’s CPRS that established a province-wide subsidized child care system, parental leave and tax credits. “The purpose was to reduce family size and thus reduce child poverty rates.” Poverty rates in two-parent families are down, he said, but poverty remains high among families that do not work and among families with no children.

He referred to a Saskatoon report put together with Upstream and several social and business organizations and released earlier this year that had the support of 87 per cent of the population. “Government and business want to make the most of the province’s human resources.”

More details of how Upstream arrived at the $3.8-billion will be contained in a final report expected to be released sometime within the next month.

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