Alberta could save billions of dollars per year if it took steps to reduce poverty, according to a report released Monday by a Calgary not-for-profit group.
With as many as 400,000 people in Alberta living below the poverty line — 150,000 in Calgary — taxpayers are on the hook for over $9 billion per year in related social costs, says Vibrant Communities Calgary.
The agency’s report, titled "Poverty Costs: an economic case for a preventative poverty reduction strategy in Alberta", concludes that, on a cost-benefit basis, "investing in poverty prevention would be much less costly in the long run than spending to alleviate poverty in perpetuity."
Vibrant Communities Calgary director Dan Meades said it makes economic sense for governments to focus more on reducing poverty.
Alberta is one of only three provinces that has not created a poverty reduction strategy, according to the organization.
"If I were to be speaking with the premier I'd certainly ask her if ... the social policy framework that she is developing, I'd ask if that has a specific poverty reduction strategy in it," he said.
Rising child poverty in Alberta is particularly disturbing, the report says. It is nearing the highest rate in five years, with 73,000 children living in poverty — 34,000 under the age of six.
The report also challenges government leaders to reject what it calls a myth: "that poverty is mostly about individual choices rather than the systems we create in our societies."
"If we are ever to truly understand poverty, we must acknowledge it as an issue that exists within the systems that we have collectively created; when poverty persists, it is an indictment of those systems," the report says.
"Poverty and income inequality hurt the bottom line for all of us — economically and socially. Recent research in Canada suggests that we are taking the more expensive route by focusing disproportionately on poverty alleviation at the expense of poverty prevention, whereas both are critical to reducing the number of people in poverty in the long-run," the report says.