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Poverty reduction strategy a start, says Docherty

By Ryan Ross on May 30, 2012
© The Guardian

There were no targets set when the government released its long awaited poverty reduction plan Wednesday.

Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty said the goal was to see a reduction in the number of people on social assistance along with increases in employment numbers and youth getting post-secondary educations.

"We've never looked at it from a number basis so we haven't identified it either by x number of people or a percentage," she said.

Docherty announced the government's social action plan to reduce poverty in a speech Wednesday where she laid out existing programs with only a few new initiatives as part of the strategy.

But those initiatives include some bigger ticket items that will see the government try to balance spending on social programs while it struggles to get its finances in order.

Among the new spending initiatives was an increase of 60 rent supplements to give more Islanders access to affordable rental units at a cost of $800,000.

The government will also spend $100,000 over the next two years to help Habitat for Humanity build affordable homes.

As part of the plan, the government will spend $360,000 over the next three years to support the Salvation Army's home heating program.

There were also allocations to help seniors stay in their home with $1 million over two years for the seniors home care renovations program and $200,000 over two years for the seniors' home repair program.

To help address the importance of education, the plan calls for two more early years centres to open next year.

Docherty said all of the new initiatives are a start when it comes to reducing poverty.

"Is it the actual 100 per cent fulfillment of what needs to happen to eradicate it? No, but it's a great start," she said.

The rate of Islanders who live with low incomes varies depending on which measure is used, although P.E.I. still falls below the national average in either case.

Under the market basket measure, which looks at the income needed for necessities like food, clothing and shelter, the rate was 8.8 per cent in 2009 as opposed to the national average of 10.6 per cent.

With the low income cut-off measure, which looks at the income level where a family spends at least 20 per cent more of their income on food, clothing and shelter than the average family, the provincial rate was 4.8 per cent in 2009. 

The national average was 9.6 per cent.

Leo Cheverie, a representative with the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income, said other provinces have also developed poverty reduction strategies, but usually included specific targets.

"This seemed to be more a reiteration of existing programs and policies, to some extent," he said.

Some of those existing policies included in the strategy were already announced increases to minimum wage, changes to generic medication costs and lower electricity rates through the P.E.I. Energy Accord.

The plan also talked about past increases to social assistance.

Cheverie said the government needs to be proactive to address the causes of poverty and move the province forward.

"I just don't see any of that in the plan that I saw today," he said.

Docherty said she knew the plan wouldn't please everybody.

"Considering it is the government's first ever strategy it is a starting point and we do have to start somewhere," she said.

Money was an issue in developing the strategy, but the biggest things needed to reduce poverty are education and finding good jobs, she said.

"Those are the two things because if we can get people much better educated they're more qualified, they're even more interested in striving for higher paying jobs and that's what we want."

In addressing employment, the strategy referred to coordinating efforts among three departments to give Islanders access to employment supports and expanding those services next year.

To help improve education, the strategy referred to past initiatives related to post-secondary education and early childhood development.

It also mentioned the possibility of making child care subsidies accessible to more people, although there wasn't a firm commitment on it.

Docherty said the strategy addressed education and employment at the "high level" by using funding programs already in place to get people working.

"Something that we can ensure gets them trained and employable," she said.

rross@theguardian.pe.ca

twitter.com/ryanrross

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