Sask. child poverty numbers second-highest in Canada: report

Saskatchewan is behind the majority of the country when it comes to reducing childhood poverty, according to a report released Tuesday morning. 

In Saskatchewan as of 2017 — the most recent numbers available — more than 72,000 children were living in poverty. Of all the provinces, Saskatchewan has the second-highest percentage of children living in poverty. For total numbers including adults, the province is third overall at 26.2 per cent. 

Between 2015 and 2017, Saskatchewan also had the smallest improvement in poverty rates, with only a 0.7 per cent change in the number of children no longer living in poverty, according to the report. 

University of Regina associate professor Miguel Sanchez said the provincial government will need to change its approach for the situation to improve.

 "We need to redirect policy from growth to sustainability and from useless production to environmental stewardship so that we can develop a more fair, equitable society that is concerned with social and economic justice," Sanchez said. 

Sanchez said the change in thought must happen as people decide they can no longer tolerate a quarter of children living in poverty. 

"It doesn't matter if they are not my children. They are children and we need to do something about their reality," Sanchez said.

"At the present growth of poverty reduction, it will take 155 years for Canadian children to be living without poverty."

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High child poverty among Indigenous people: report

Some groups are at a higher risk than others when it comes to child poverty, including people of colour, recent immigrants and — most significantly — Indigenous children. 

According to the 2016 census, Indigenous children living on reserve had a poverty rate of 53 per cent and those living off reserve had a poverty rate of 41 per cent. The report said one in four Indigenous people live in poverty. 

"We know that this is the direct result of the colonial imposition on the Indigenous people," Sanchez said. "And the children who are defenceless suffer direly the consequences." 

Only 12 per cent of children that are not Indigenous, immigrants, or visible minorities are exposed to poverty. 

Heidi Atter/CBC

Minority government an opportunity to reduce poverty

The report said the current minority Parliament gives an opportunity for all parties to work together to help the more than 1.35 million Canadian children living in poverty with their families today.

Recommendations include: 

  • Invest $6 billion in the 2020 budget toward a goal of reducing poverty by 50% between 2015 to 2025. 
  • Set an official poverty line. 
  • Recognize the right to an adequate standard of living. 
  • Appoint an advisory council and a poverty reduction advocate to investigate major systemic issues. 
  • Increase the Canada child benefit. 
  • Ensure access for families living at higher rates of poverty such as First Nations families on reserve, children whose parents have irregular immigration status, and women in shelters fleeing violence. 
  • Immediately implement a $15/hour minimum wage within federally regulated industries. 
  • Create sustaining, quality employment opportunities.
  • Commit to implementing a universal, comprehensive, public pharmacare plan.
  • Enhance the Canadian medicare program to include dental, vision and various rehabilitation services. 

The report 2020: Setting the Stage for a Poverty-Free Canada was released on Jan. 14. It was written by Campaign 2000: End Child & Family Poverty. It was followed by Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan: 2019 Report, written by the University of Regina department of social work.