Let's get real about poverty in Alberta
Educating people about the widespread prevalence of poverty in Alberta is the goal of a new campaign called From Poverty to Progress, co-ordinated by Public Interest Alberta (PIA).
The Alberta Teachers’ Association has partnered with PIA in this Alberta-wide initiative to educate the general population.
At the root of the campaign is a statistic that has remained virtually unchanged for 25 years: one in six Alberta children currently lives in poverty.
The executive director of PIA, Joel French, says being raised in poverty leaves lasting impressions, and preventing child poverty is the way to eradicate it.
“People need to understand there is a problem,” said French.
The From Poverty to Progress campaign includes an online petition calling on the provincial government to “immediately begin creating a poverty-reduction strategy to prevent, reduce, and ultimately eliminate child poverty.”
The petition is available under the Campaigns tab at www.pialberta.org.
While poverty is prevalent across the province, vulnerable groups such as single parents and minimum wage earners are the most susceptible, French said. The result is generation after generation of people who lack access to early education, health care, adequate housing and proper nutrition. Children
are overrepresented among the province’s poor and are especially vulnerable.
“Poverty leads to the underdevelopment of children’s brains and it reduces their capacity to learn in school,” French said. When a child starts out in a house in impoverished conditions, they have poor health and growth, and they’re less likely to graduate high school.”
With its campaign, PIA is advocating for greater access to affordable, quality child care; better supports in the form of living wage policies, language and employment training, and social assistance; and more action on affordable housing.
The organization credits the provincial NDP government for taking some positive steps, such as increasing funding to Family and Community Support Services and to women’s shelters, pledging to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, creating the Status of Women ministry, funding 22 early learning centres and implementing an Alberta child benefit.
However, PIA is still calling for the provincial government to complete a poverty-reduction strategy to prevent, reduce and eliminate poverty in Alberta. Such a strategy should align with local poverty-reduction initiatives that are happening in municipalities across the province and should include a number of measures designed to help children.
“Building a child care and early learning system that’s accessible to everybody who needs it is absolutely critical to ensuring that we develop the full potential of every child,” French said.
Growing up in poverty can have significant long-term effects that persist into adulthood, leading to difficulty finding well-paying, long-term employment and trouble with relationships.
Measuring poverty is complex. The Edmonton Social Planning Council partners with the Alberta College of Social Workers every year to conduct research and produce statistical reports using the after-tax low-income measure.
“It depends on what part of the province they live in, so it’s not as easy as just saying there’s a dollar amount that the parent or parents need to earn,” French said.
Poverty isn’t a short-term problem. It’s an issue that has to be continually brought forward to create awareness and solutions to solve it. ❚
|Public Interest Alberta is a provincewide, non-profit, non-partisan organization focused on education and advocacy on public interest issues. The Alberta Teachers’ Association is among its numerous member organizations.
Read other articles from this series on poverty in Alberta