In 2003, Newfoundland and Labrador had highest level of poverty in the country. Cue to 2015, and the day before United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (Oct. 17th), and the province is proud to say things have changed: we now have the lowest rate of poverty in Canada.
In the decade after 2003’s grim reality, the number of people living in poverty in our province decreased by about 38,000. And as of September 2015, only 6.4% of our population is receiving income support — which is the lowest percentage ever recorded in Newfoundland & Labrador.
This is not to say it isn’t a problem here. Locally, youth homelessness is a serious issue leading to circumstances as grim as survival sex and youth sexual exploitation. Our Choices for Youth’s shelter for young men has seen occupancy rates of over 90%.
In St. John’s, 30% of the homeless population are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 – and that’s 10% higher than the Canadian national average. Last year, Choices for Youth saw close to 1,000 youth seeking support.
Still, the latest data (2013) from Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut Offs After Tax (LICO-AT), shows the province now has the lowest level of poverty in Canada. And there are promising promises on the horizon: Budget 2015 allocates $190 Million towards poverty reduction initiatives.
Since 2006, government reports it has invested $1.2 Billion in poverty reduction strategies. But as Clyde Jackman, Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development says, “Even as we acknowledge how far we have come, we recognize that more work needs to be done.”
He concedes “there are still people among us who, for various reasons, live in poverty.” And so Jackman has been involved with a public engagement process that will help inform a second Poverty Reduction Strategy Action Plan. It is currently under development.
“My hope is that we can eradicate poverty in Newfoundland and Labrador altogether, ensuring all of our residents have an opportunity to focus on being healthy, active, engaged, contributing members of society.”