Double-digit poverty for Saskatchewan’s children highlighted in new report—increasing calls for immediate community action

By Costa Maragos Posted: November 24, 2017 2:30 p.m.

Dr. Miguel Sanchez (l), Associate Dean in the Faculty of Social Work and Dr. Garson Hunter (r), Associate Professor in the Social Work Faculty, have co-authored the report 'Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan.'
Dr. Miguel Sanchez (l), Associate Dean in the Faculty of Social Work and Dr. Garson Hunter (r), Associate Professor in the Social Work Faculty, have co-authored the report 'Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan.' Photo by Trevor Hopkin - U of R Photography

For two decades, Dr. Miguel Sanchez has been writing about child poverty and each year he’s profoundly disturbed by what he finds.

“Year after year we have been reporting the very same number of children living below the poverty line,” says Sanchez. “It is unacceptable that in a society that claims to cherish children, we have close to 25 per cent of this province’s children living in abject poverty.”

Sanchez, Associate Dean in the Faculty of Social Work, has co-authored a report on child and family poverty in Saskatchewan, with Dr. Garson Hunter, Associate Professor in the Social Work Faculty.

The report using the latest numbers from Statistics Canada (Annual Income Estimates for Census Families and Individuals Final Estimates 2015), states that 24.1 per cent of children in Saskatchewan live below the poverty line, compared to the national average of 17.1 per cent.

It’s the second consecutive year that Saskatchewan’s child poverty rate has been more than 24 per cent. Children in lone-parent families experience from the highest poverty rates.
The poverty rate for immigrant children in the province is 32 per cent, consistent with the national average. They “are 13 times more likely to live in chronic low income than individuals born in Canada or those who immigrated 21 years prior.”

Of the 253,485 children in the province in 2016, almost 27 per cent were of Aboriginal identity. It defies understanding that almost half—49.4 per cent—of all Aboriginal children in Saskatchewan live in poverty. The report acknowledges that, realistically, these numbers are probably much worse as the data is not complete.

“In 1989, the federal government declared they were going to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Here we are in 2017 and the child poverty rates level at the national level have increased rather than diminished,” says Sanchez.

Released this week, Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan: November 2017, is part of a national report produced by Campaign 2000, an organization that vows to eliminate poverty in Canada.

The report also examines people living at or below the poverty line, noting that benefits for the poor in Saskatchewan are the third worst in Canada, behind Nunavut and Manitoba.

As an example, about half of the people with children in this province live $12,000 to $13,000 below the poverty line.

“I see these children. I see these families. I see them everyday,” says Hunter. “As a privileged person in the social work faculty, we are supposed to speak for the poor.”

The report recognizes that government assistance programs focused on the poor do help reduce child poverty rates and that without such support more children (about a third) would be living in poverty.

Uniquely, the report calls for citizens to take a stand for the poor, calling on community advocacy groups to demand system-wide change at the federal as well as provincial levels, and to address social assistance levels, not just minimum wage standards.     

They go further, calling artists, musicians, poets, authors, filmmakers, painters, photographers, and intellectuals to lend their considerable voices to the mix.

Journalists are taken to task for lending credibility to a message that says hunger should be addressed by charity and food banks rather than politicians and governments being held accountable by its citizens.

The report states that history provides wonderful examples of people taking action; clearly for the health of the children and marginalized adults and that it’s time for action once again and an end to the status quo.
 
“I decided that when I started my academic career 25 years ago I was siding with the poor and marginalized people,” says Hunter. “The poor have been studied more than any other social group. They’re probably sick of it.  We know their plight. We have to accept our responsibility.”

In the coming months, Hunter and Sanchez plan on releasing a series of  reports on the topics of social and economic injustice in Saskatchewan.

The report was produced through the Social Policy Research Centre, housed within the Faculty of Social Work. It supports social justice and equity-focused research that addresses issues faced by vulnerable, marginalized, and oppressed groups. Campaign 2000 (campaign2000.ca) coordinated the preparation of the 2016 national and provincial poverty report cards.