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View From Here 2015: Manitobans call for a renewed poverty reduction plan

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To address persistent poverty in this province, community groups have outlined a plan to provide Manitobans with the tools they need for a life of dignity and opportunity. The View from Here 2015: Manitobans Call for a Renewed Poverty Reduction Plan assembles the ideas and findings of on-the-ground experts and recent research in a comprehensive package of recommendations endorsed by over 90 organizations across the province.

This new report builds on proposals originally put forward by the community in The View From Here, released in 2009. In response to calls for a provincial poverty reduction plan, the government launched All Aboard: Manitoba's Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy. Many actions taken under All Aboard are rooted in the 2009 community report. Notable areas include housing, income security, job training, and child care.

Affordable housing has long been a community priority. Individuals and families need stable housing to access social services and to succeed in training or employment. The province has added more than 3,000 new social and affordable housing units since 2009, and has increased annual investments in repairs and maintenance tenfold in the last decade. While these investments have helped meet some of the need, more social housing -- particularly larger family units with more than three bedrooms -- is required.

Given the ever-increasing costs of rent and inadequate welfare rates, The View From Here 2009 recommended increasing the shelter allowance for those on Employment and Income Assistance (EIA). The province responded in 2014 with a new income benefit, which provides people on EIA, and the working poor with more help to pay their rent. This new benefit will be increased to 75 percent of median market rent over four years. Community groups are calling for this increase immediately.

Two-parent families (with two children) working full time at minimum wage live below the poverty line. The View from Here 2009 called for increases to the minimum wage, and although the Province has continued with regular increases, stronger action is needed -- a job should help lift people out of poverty, and not perpetuate it.

The 2009 plan also called for investments in training and jobs for low-income Manitobans. The province is integrating training and hiring for marginalized populations into public infrastructure projects. It is also working with the community on a strategy to grow social enterprises. These non-profit businesses successfully train, hire, and support people shut out of the workforce because of issues like a criminal record, a disability, or lack of formal education. A financial commitment is needed to implement this new social enterprise strategy and bring more low-income Manitobans into the labour market.

Poverty reduction cannot just be about jobs and better wages. We need investment in public services such as health care, early learning, and child care. While the Province has made great progress on creating childcare spaces, the existing supply is not meeting demand.

People also need community-led services that address complex challenges such as addictions, mental illness, and low literacy levels. The province provides multi-year funding to organizations that deliver these social services in the communities where low-income people live. This support should be expanded to more organizations providing effective wraparound services.

Many are disappointed that Manitoba's poverty rates are still too high, but statistics do not immediately respond to changes in government policy. Manitobans who work with individuals and families in poverty witness incremental impacts daily and are confident we are on the right path. They know that many Manitobans would be worse off had investments in recent years not been made and that even bolder action is needed if we are going to see more significant improvements. Community groups are calling on the province to build on investments that are making a difference.

The release of The View From Here 2015 provides a renewed package of comprehensive actions for reducing poverty. The report is based on research and consultations with individuals and organizations who know what works. This comprehensive approach will help reduce increasing costs in health care, justice, social assistance, and child welfare systems as poverty is inextricably linked to these systems. Community groups hope this plan will provide a renewed foundation for future government action to reduce poverty in Manitoba.

Kirsten Bernas is the Research and Policy Manager at the Canadian Community Economic Development Network and a Research Associate at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba.

145 people attended the launch of the View From Here 2015 at the North Centennial Recreation Centre held Jan 30 at 10:30 a.m.

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