Common Front for Social Justice

For Immediate Publication

The coming Provincial Budget must increase social assistance rates by at least 17% to allow the poorest to simply catch-up

Moncton, Tuesday, March 22, 2005 . At their provincial meeting held March 19 th , members of the Common Front for Social Justice (CFSJ) resolved to vigorously demand a significant increase in social assistance rates in the up-coming budget. New Brunswick individuals and families living on income assistance have not had a raise since 1997. Meanwhile, a basket of goods and services that was priced at $100.00 in 1997 costs $116.92 in 2005. Income assistance rates have to go up! We want all current basic rates to be increased by at least 17%, and these must be indexed to the cost of living. Many poor of this Province do not know if, at the end of the month, they will be able to afford bread, milk, heating oil, etc. We urge the government to put an end to their stress.

The December 2004 Speech from the Throne stated on behalf of Premier Bernard Lord: ''Our government is committed to increasing social assistance and enhancing other social benefits, including fuel supplement to help New Brunswickers who need help the most.'' The CFSJ says that an increase of 17% raise is the lowest acceptable raise that people living on social assistance are entitled to have. They will just keep up with inflation.

From the CFSJ's standpoint, thousands of New Brunswickers and their children need to get this 17 % increase in the 2005-2006 budget. Here are some of the reasons:

1. In the 2003 numbers appearing in the Report from the National Council of Welfare, the annual benefits on social assistance in N. B. were the lowest in Canada for three our of four categories reported: (a) single employable person at $3,383; (b) person with disability at $6,911; (c) couple with two children at $16,853. As for the fourth category, single parent with one child, N. B.'s rate, at $13,232, was the sixth lowest among the 10 Canadian provinces. And none of these four rates have been increased since.

2. If we compare these N. B. annual social assistance rates to the Poverty Line, as defined by Statistics Canada, we understand that the dramatic problem of poor people. It is impossible to survive with such low percentages as the following:

Social assistance category

Welfare income as % of the poverty line

Single employable l

20%

Person with disability

41%

Single parent, one child

62%

Couple, two children

53%

3. If we look at the increased price of basic needs in our province, we see that heating costs for example have increased dramatically. We were paying $0.35 per litre for heating oil in 1994-95 and this had risen to $0.79 in November 2004, a 225% increase.

4. The price of food has dramatically risen since 1997. For example, we pay 30% more for bread, 24% more for milk, 40% more for eggs, 56% for carrots, 65% more for oranges and 17% more for bananas. And yet, we know that the rates of income assistance did not move upward. Food security is now being listed among the social determinants of health. Hunger, poverty and ill health go hand in hand. Forcing the poor to go without sufficient food leads to malnutrition, less resistance, increased disease, all conditions which contribute to the dramatic rise in health care costs. In 2004,19,663 New Brunswickers visited a food bank compared to 18,875 in 2003, an increase of 4% from 2003 [1] . Fifty-five percent were citizens on income assistance, almost 12% were employed citizens and close to 14% were unemployed. When font-line food bank staff and volunteers were asked what measures could be taken to combat hunger and poverty among adults and children, they stated three actions which the governments could take: (1) increase income assistance benefits ; (2) raise the minimum wage and (3) facilitate affordable housing.

New Bruswickers living in poverty and on income assistance need to be at the centre of this upcoming budget. It is unacceptable that so many individuals and families have to make both ends meet with the same amount of money as eight years ago, given that even in 1997, the allocations were far from sufficient. Our government has cut taxes for corporations, small businesses and individuals, decisions that did nothing to help the poor. These tax cuts mean less monies coming into the provincial coffers so it also mean less money available for social programs, therefore less help for individuals and families experiencing poverty.

The CFSJ strongly believes that it is more important, right now, to take care of the 20% who are at the lower end of the socio-economic scale than to improve the financial condition of the 20% who are the richest. The latter can take care of themselves. The costs associated with not taking care of the poor are, in the short, medium and long term, much greater than if we do something right now.

The CFSJ believes that, with the up-coming budget, Premier Lord has an opportunity to show where his government's political will lies. On March 29 th , a delegation of the CFSJ will go to Fredericton where they will be eagerly listening to the content of this budget.

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For more information, please call the Co-Chairs  : John Gagnon 547-6061 (W) 545-680(H) 545-0651 (Cell.) ou Mary-Ann LeBlanc au : 648-6989 (W) ou 633-9881 (H) or Sr. Auréa Cormier (member) at 389-9705


[1] Hunger Count 2004 - Poverty in a land of plenty - Toward a Hunger-Free Canada.

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