Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Playing politics with poverty in Manitoba

  • Print

It was a bad week for advocates working to improve the lives of people living in poverty.

Recent child poverty statistics continue to show high rates for Manitoba, but last Monday's throne speech gave no hint that poverty will be a priority in the next budget.

Make Poverty History Manitoba and some 150 supporting organizations have been calling on the province to increase the rental allowance for people on employment and income assistance (EIA). Access to housing is identified by people living in poverty as their biggest concern. In spite of recent efforts, there continues to be a shortage of social housing, and private-sector rents have risen far beyond what EIA recipients can afford. But the Selinger government's response to the call to increase EIA rates to 75 per cent of median market rents has not been very encouraging -- tough economic times, they say.

While this is true, the resistance to increased support for social assistance recipients is far more complicated.

While most people say they are concerned about poverty, the negative -- sometimes hateful -- stereotypes of those who are most vulnerable remain persistent. This is unfortunate because it is often based on misinformation and misunderstanding that can be resolved through public education. Groups like Make Poverty History Manitoba, a voluntary organization that receives no funding, work hard to educate the public and change attitudes.

It is an uphill battle and governments don't help. Even the most progressive governments do their best to avoid the welfare debate. They hesitate to increase support for people on social assistance -- the poorest of the poor -- because there is nothing to gain politically.

Many poor people don't vote and many voters don't see poor people as worthy of public support. In spite of much evidence that shows otherwise, the belief that poor people are somehow deficient, lazy or dishonest is deeply rooted. Many continue to believe the best we can do is make poor people's lives difficult so they will "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and get on with it.

Sadly, this attitude recently reared its ugly head by way of a provincial government announcement released shortly before last Monday's throne speech. The announcement by Justice Minister Andrew Swan states: Province announces crackdown on people with outstanding warrants, followed by Employment income assistance benefits to be reduced or denied.

Implicit in this statement is that poor people are dishonest. There may be individuals in Manitoba, perhaps even many, with outstanding warrants against them. But drawing a direct connection to people who are on EIA leads the public to believe EIA recipients are criminals. This is extremely damaging to efforts to address the myths surrounding poverty. The fact that such a statement comes from an NDP government is raising a lot of eyebrows.

In 1994, the Conservative government introduced the "welfare fraud line." At that time, the NDP opposition expressed outrage, questioning not only the need of a line for people to snitch on their neighbours, but the implication that welfare fraud was rampant. The welfare fraud line was shown to be ineffective. The line received many calls but very few cases of fraud were proven. It was terminated by the NDP government in the early 2000s.

The welfare-fraud line was a misguided move based on a false assumption, without evidence, of rampant welfare abuse. It leads one to wonder whether the same is true in this case -- that there is no actual evidence of a serious problem with outstanding warrants among EIA recipients. And even if there were, wouldn't the logical response be to resolve the warrants issue? Why would it be necessary to curtail EIA benefits on top of that?

Why the NDP would feel a need to release a statement that raises questions about the honesty of EIA recipients is troubling. They likely see some political capital to be gained. That may be true, but it's a risky move. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have been quick to criticize the NDP government for not doing enough about poverty. It's all purely political, of course, and it is unlikely that the Conservatives would do better. In fact, Conservative Leader Brian Pallister's primary solution is to raise tax exemptions. Not only will this not help the poorest of the poor, it will reduce taxes for higher income earners who should be paying more rather than less.

What is most clear from last week's events is that advocates for the poor will have to ramp up efforts to dispel the myths about poverty reignited by the minister of justice and get the public onside with the campaign to increase support for the poorest Manitobans.

 

Shauna MacKinnon is the

director of CCPA Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2012 A13

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Key of Bart - The Floodway Connection

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 101130-Winnipeg Free Press Columns of light reach skyward to the stars above Sanford Mb Tuesday night. The effect is produced by streetlights refracting through ice crystals suspended in the air on humid winter nights. Stand Up.....
  • JJOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-Postcard  Day-Horror frost and fog created a most beautiful setting at Assiniboine Park Thursday morning in WInnipeg- Enviroent Canada says the fog will lifet this morning and will see a high of -7C-  JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Feb 18, 2010

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your take on a report that shows violent crime is decreasing in Winnipeg?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google