October 17th is the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It is an important day for anti-poverty organizations because it is a time when we remember commitments made by Canada and the provinces under international law to eliminate poverty. Poverty is a human rights violation, and the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights outlines issues like inadequate income security, housing, child care, and a living wage. These are not just public policy issues but issues of basic human rights.
Around the world there are huge problems with hunger and dislocation due to political and economic structures, war and the impacts of climate change. We need to act abroad and at home to address poverty.
In a wealthy country and province, we should be ensuring all citizens have an adequate standard of living as outlined by the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In 2022, we have deep concerns about the inadequacy of income security and housing programs in Saskatchewan.
The Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS), which completely replaced Social Assistance and the Transitional Employment Allowances, remains an inadequate program.
- The SIS benefit should be increased by $300 per month with a long-term plan to raise people above the poverty line.
- SIS recipients should have the option of having rent and utility payments provided directly to housing and utility providers, thus simplifying their financial arrangements.
- On top of the adult allowance and shelter allowance, the SIS program should cover the actual cost of basic utilities such as power, energy, water, and basic phone service.
- The SIS plan deducts Rental Housing Supplements dollar for dollar from those who have been able to keep their benefits – this deduction should end.
- Rental security deposits that are provided by the Ministry of Social Services are deducted $50 per month from future benefits until they are paid back. These clawback practices need to stop.
The basic adult allowance on SIS for all non-shelter-related costs is only $315 per month.
- The shelter allowance for both housing and utilities is $600 per month in Regina and Saskatoon and $550 in the rest of Saskatchewan.
- These benefit levels do not improve with family size, as a family of 3 or more children only receives $1175 for housing and utility costs in Regina and Saskatoon and the rest of the province receives $875.
- Previous programs had more categories in SIS to compensate for the increase in children. Now, families with three children or seven children receive the same amount.
We also have significant concerns with the benefits provided by the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID).
- It has been seven years since the last benefit increase while the cost of living has risen significantly during that period.
- In addition, SAID beneficiaries have seen cuts to rental supports and special needs since 2015.
When the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement application process ended in 2018, we were told that there would be a joint federal-provincial housing benefit that would act as a replacement in 2020. When the Saskatchewan Housing Benefit came into effect 2 years ago, it denied eligibility to those on the SIS and SAID programs, meaning that it remains increasingly difficult for income recipients to cover their housing costs. The eligibility for this benefit must be expanded to those households that need it the most.
In conclusion, we continue to call for an Act to End Poverty in Saskatchewan that includes the social and economic rights that Saskatchewan committed to 46 years ago under international law. The UN Committee on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights has been very critical of Canada and all the provinces for not ensuring these rights in such a wealthy country. They recommended increasing the availability of affordable housing units, introducing human rights-based policies, and extending programs to cover people most affected by food insecurity (Economic and Social Council, 2016).
Addressing poverty in Saskatchewan requires a commitment to change and supporting people who need it the most.
For more information contact: RAPM Peter Gilmer (306) 352-6386, PFS Joanne Havelock (306)535-9570
Reference: Economic and Social Council. (2016). Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Canada. United Nations.