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Poverty plan for Calgary moves closer to the finish line

05-21-13

The city of Calgary is setting priorities – and poverty is hitting the top of the agenda. This week CWP board member Derek Cook, the Executive Director of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative (CPRI), presented a poverty strategy to the Priorities and Finance Committee, which approved the plan to cut poverty in half by 2023.

A partnership between the City of Calgary and the United Way of Calgary, the CPRI was tasked with developing a strategy through consultation with individuals living in poverty, government stakeholders, organizations, business and community (Read the full strategy here).  The result of 15 hours of discussion was a better understanding of the root causes of poverty and ideas for a way forward.  At the centre of this process is the understanding that communities are stronger when everyone is thriving.  A statement made by a participant at a consultation sums this up: “My neighbour’s strength is my strength”

According to 2010 data from Statistics Canada (most recent data available as Stats Can is two years behind), 114,000 Calgarians are living in poverty. The goal of the poverty plan is to cut this number in half, and by 2023 have 95% of these individuals at or above the poverty line.

The premise of the strategy is that there is ‘enough for all’ and the vision of CPRI is, “a community where no human being is deprived of the resources, means, choices and power to acquire and maintain self sufficiency while being able to be an active participant in society”.  The way in which this will be achieved is manifold:

  • Providing greater access to supports through ‘community hubs’ for social services in priority neighbourhoods
  • Ensuring those living in poverty have access to networks of support (peer support and mentoring)
  • Offer opportunities for the public to learn more about the causes and impacts of poverty
  • Establish a Social Business Centre and Community Investment Fund to support the development of cooperatives and social enterprise
  • Create a financial development task force to consider various income support strategies
  • Increase access to information regarding services
  • Advocating the Alberta government for income assistance reform
  • Develop an Aboriginal Poverty Reduction Strategy that address unique issues that Aboriginal peoples face

A main focus is to strengthen community and inclusiveness – something many people felt was diminishing as the result of increased inequality.  This is one of the reasons that a desired outcome is that every person living in poverty has at least three people to rely on.

While jobs are often touted by various governments and business as the answer to poverty, what is often overlooked is that low wages play a harmful role in maintaining poverty and subsidizing corporate profits.  What is interesting to note in this report is that Calgary has a low unemployment rate comparative to the national average, but poverty remains at above 10% in the city (above the national average).  And the majority of households below the poverty line have at least one person working full time.  Those just above the poverty line are also struggling as wages have not kept up with the costs of living.  The CPRI joins a chorus of voices across the country asking recognizing the value of a living wage where actual costs of living are calculated in association with government services provided.  It is hard to thrive when you can meet basic needs.

As the report states, “Poverty is a complex issue that requires coordinated action by multiple stakeholders across sectors”.  The plan will be guided by a new 3-part governance structure that includes a board, implementation teams and a staffed Poverty Secretariat that will manage communications and partnerships.  It is an inclusive structure that welcomes persons with lived experiences of poverty alongside business, academic and government leaders as well as funder.  As many stakeholders are involved, the structure will be critical to successful implementation and.

The next step is for the City Council to vote on the plan May 27th.  With all of this support, it is very hopeful that this strategy will be put into action in the coming months.

NT4