Social assistance increases don't go far enough, say advocates for poor
Despite 5 per cent increase in monthly rates, anti-poverty activists say gap is still too large
Social assistance rates will be going up in New Brunswick for the first time in six years, thanks to a $5.4 million boost in the 2020-21 budget presented Tuesday, but will it be enough to close a growing poverty gap in the province?
The current rates — which saw a slight increase of three per cent in April 2014 — sit at $537 a month for a single, employable person, $887 for single parents and $995 for a family of four.
Come May 1, the rates will be increase five per cent, according to the budget proposed Tuesday by Finance Minister Ernie Steeves.
About 15,000 people in the main social assistance programs affecting single recipients, or about two-thirds of recipients, will see the increase.
In 2021, those rates will also be indexed to the consumer price index, meaning they'll automatically rise with inflation. Other social assistance rates will stay the same.
Despite the positive increases, advocates for poor people in New Brunswick say the gap is still too large.
Quite a gap to make up
Randy Hatfield of the Human Development Council in Saint John said the five per cent increase was needed, but over the past six years social assistance incomes have been eroded by inflation of 11.1 per cent, leaving people on low incomes with less and less money in their pockets.
"For a single person considered employable, the amount of welfare income they received before this announcement was only 39 per cent of the poverty line," said Hatfield.
Jean-Claude Basque of the Common Front for Social Justice said the five per cent increase doesn't go far enough in helping combat poverty in New Brunswick.
"This budget won't change a lot of situations, because the increases proposed are too low," he said.
"Even the poverty reduction plan that came out last week is not going far enough. So we can't expect the number of people living in poverty will decrease a lot in the next couple of years."
Basque would like to see more increases to social assistance rates and to the minimum wage, and see the province put more money in affordable housing.
Hatfield said he's just glad to see the provincial government finally acknowledge that rates have to increase.
He said the next step would be to address barriers that keep people in poverty, such as limited access to employment and a lack of affordable housing.
$535 a month is tight for anybody that's trying to survive out there, with the cost of everything going up the way it has,-Warren Maddox, Fredericton Homeless Shelters
"The high cost of child care, for example, precludes many young, single moms from entering the labour force," he said.
Not having inflation indexing so far for social assistance rates has left many people in the dust, according to Hatfield.
While the small increases are a good thing, they only go so far.
"It provides a level of certainty and a preservation of the purchasing power of the initial amount, but it doesn't go to actually providing real increases," he said.
"It doesn't address the fundamental inadequacies of welfare rates in New Brunswick."
More money in pockets
The executive director of Fredericton Homeless Shelters said the increases are "way overdue."
The rate of "$535 a month is tight for anybody that's trying to survive out there, with the cost of everything going up the way it has," said Warren Maddox.
"From the homeless shelter's perspective, any increase to the social assistance amount on a monthly basis is a good thing."
Maddox said social assistance rates are increasing, but the Fredericton Homeless Shelters group has no plans to raise their monthly fees.