How Poverty Reduction Strategies are Working in New Brunswick – Pay Attention, BC!
In a report on the two legislated child poverty reduction plans, First Call states that, “The experiences of Ontario and New Brunswick show that child poverty can be reduced through targeted measures, and highlight the importance of adopting a comprehensive reduction plan in British Columbia.” In November 2009, Overcoming Poverty Together: the New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Plan set a target of reducing income poverty by 25% and deep income poverty by 50% by the year 2015. The targets and timetables are set out in the Economic and Social Inclusion Act which received Royal Assent in April 2010.
The Human Development Council Campaign 2000 November 2012 Child Poverty Report Card on New Brunswick notes that Statistics Canada 2010 data, using the Low Income Measure (LIM), showed that 22,000 children in New Brunswick were living below the poverty line. “This is the same measure used by the Province of Ontario for their Poverty Reduction Strategy. A person who falls into low income under LIM would be someone who is likely to have difficulties to participate fully in society.”
In 1983, child poverty rates in New Brunswick were at a high of 27.8%. After a drop to below 19% by 2001, they had risen again to close to 25% by 2006. Since then, “the child poverty rate in NB has been steadily decreasing, slowly but surely, since 2006”, to the most recently reported level of 16.1% in 2010.
The UNICEF Report Card 10: Measuring Child Poverty, Canadian Companion reports that, “UNICEF’s comparison of child poverty across industrialized countries shows that government action is a key driver to reduce child poverty. In countries that accept higher levels of child poverty, this is not just a function of chance or necessity, but of policy and priority.”
Of particular concern is the effect of poverty on First Nations children in New Brunswick. Of the ten poorest postal codes in Canada, 7 of them are in New Brunswick First Nations communities. More than 18,000 people live within New Brunswick’s 15 First Nations communities, and youth under the age of 25, make up over half of the First Nations population.
The recently published Progress Report: April 1st, 2011 to March 31st, 2013 of the New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Plan covers the initial 5-year plan from 2009-2014. A second 5-year plan will cover the period 2014-2019. The act established the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation, which “was established:
- To ensure the implementation of the provincial Overcoming Poverty Together (OPT) Plan and the development and adoption of any other economic and social inclusion plan;
- To coordinate and support the Community Inclusion Networks in developing their local plans and in reaching objectives of the provincial plan set out in their regional plans;
- To administer the Economic and Social Inclusion Fund established under section 29 of the Economic and Social Inclusion Act;
- To exercise the other functions or activities authorized by this Act or the Regulations or as directed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council;
- To develop and adopt a new economic and social inclusion plan every five years through a public engagement process successfully conducted by the Corporation.”
The New Brunswick plan incorporates collaborative participation amongst the “four pillars” (government, the business sector, the non-profit sector, and people who are living or have lived in poverty) and is based on community and individual capacity building. “Rather than constantly relying on the various levels of government to eradicate poverty, the plan was designed so that communities and individuals can contribute directly and effectively to improve their situation.”
The New Brunswick government has created a Department of Healthy and Inclusive Communities (HIC) with a mandate to promote a healthy lifestyle and work in partnership with non-profit organizations and stakeholders towards meeting the needs of seniors, youth, people living in poverty, and those with disabilities.
One challenge being addressed by the plan is accessible community transportation. A fund has been created “dedicated specifically to the establishment and implementation of these regional transportation services.”
To supplement existing federal and provincial tax and income supplement programs for low-income families, in September, 2012, New Brunswick government launched the Healthy Smiles, Clear Vision program to provide vision and dental coverage for all children aged 18 and under in low income families. The Advisory Committee on Health Benefits has since been working on the second piece of the plan, to “develop a mechanism to provide a prescription drug plan for uninsured New Brunswickers”. Their report was tabled in the Legislature in December 2012.
The New Brunswick poverty reduction plan calls for the provincial government, over several years, to “restructure and increase social assistance rates including a new regime more appropriate for persons with disabilities.” Social Assistance is reported as the primary source of income for 65.9% of the 19,524 individuals assisted by food banks in New Brunswick.
In response to targets set in the poverty reduction plan, the minimum wage in New Brunswick was increased to $10.00 on April 1, 2012, in line with the average for the Atlantic provinces. The poverty reduction plan also calls for annual inflation adjustments to the rate.
Other achievements so far have included providing stable funding for homeless shelters and amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act to protect roomers and boarders. The New Brunswick Social Assistance system has been reformed to: 1) eliminate the interim social assistance rate program for single employable people; 2) extend the health card for persons exiting social assistance for up to 3 years until the prescription drug program is introduced; 3) apply the household income policy only to recipients who are in spousal relationships. Other changes to the Social Assistance system are in progress.
A literacy program has been established, providing after school volunteer tutors to grade 1-3 pupils having challenges developing their reading skills. As of March 2013, the program is operating in 25 English-language schools and 28 French-language schools in the province.
Four early childhood development centre demonstrations sites have opened in the province, as part of a 3-year pilot project by the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation.
Standards of practice to accommodate diverse learning styles have been developed for beginning teachers in the New Brunswick Anglophone sector of the provincial Education department, and have been introduced in 75 schools.
A Housing Framework has been completed to guide the province in increasing the availability of housing to ensure access for persons with disabilities and to reduce chronic homelessness.
An adult literacy strategy has been completed focusing on four priorities: 1) reducing barriers and increasing participation; 2) increasing the number and range of learning opportunities; 3) ensuring the quality and effectiveness of adult literacy programs; 4) strengthening partnerships to develop an effective adult literacy system. The strategy was completed in 2011 and training is now ongoing.
A number of other initiatives are listed as in progress and ongoing. The current initiatives will be carried forward into the 2014-2019 plan.
The Keeping in Touch team would like to thank and recognize the ongoing efforts of First Call in analyzing and publishing information on child poverty. Click here to visit their website.
Click here to access the New Brunswick Progress Report.