Before we can take action, we must first take measure. When poverty among on reserve First Nations children is included, the rate of child poverty in Saskatchewan increases significantly. An understanding of how child poverty is calculated sheds light on the extent of the problem and the road to better results.
Fact 1: 1 in 4 children in Saskatchewan live in poverty
A couple of weeks ago Campaign 2000 released its 2014 report card on child poverty in Canada. It found that since 1989—the year in which the Canadian House of Commons voted unanimously to make eliminating child poverty by the year 2000 a priority—the province of Saskatchewan and Canada have made little to no progress.
Twenty five years ago, the child poverty rate in Saskatchewan was 25.1%. Today, it is 25.6%, second only to Manitoba’s 29%. The child poverty rate in Canada was 15.8%. Now it is 19.2%.
To put these numbers in perspective, a child poverty rate of 15% is a high, but not egregious poverty rate for a rich country like Canada. A child poverty rate of 25% puts us on par with middle-income countries like Romania.
Fact 2: Poverty levels in Saskatchewan have been falling
Since the early 2000s, poverty levels in Saskatchewan and in Canada as a whole have been falling. The reason that we aren’t much further ahead than we were in 1989 is that poverty levels rose dramatically in the 1990s.
This was the central finding of our recent review of poverty in Saskatchewan, released in our report, “Poverty Costs Saskatchewan". Using different data and measures than Campaign 2000, we found that the child poverty rate in Saskatchewan in 2011 was 12.5%, down from a high as 20% in 2002.
Fact 3: Canada’s leading surveys under-serve First Nations people
Even though the Poverty Costs and Campaign 2000 reports found the same poverty trends, Poverty Costs found that Saskatchewan has a low child poverty rate compared to the other provinces. Campaign 2000, on the other hand, found us to have the second highest.
One of the main reasons for this discrepancy is that until the Campaign 2000 2014 Report Card came out last week, virtually every statistic on poverty rates in Canada you have ever seen did not include on-reserve populations. For Saskatchewan, the province with the largest and fastest growing First Nations population in Canada, this is a huge deal.
Virtually every statistic on poverty rates in Canada you have ever seen did not include on-reserve populations
For “Poverty Costs” we used the most popular measures of provincial poverty in Canada, the data gathered by Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) and HRSDC’s Market Basket Measure poverty measure. The problem is SLID, Canada’s leading source for poverty statistics since the mid-1990s, does not sample on-reserve populations.
In order to estimate poverty levels for cities and towns across Canada, Campaign 2000 used Statistics Canada’s T1 Family File (T1FF). They used Statistics Canada’s After-Tax Low Income Measure as their measure of poverty (AT-LIM).
Fact 4: First Nations people file their taxes
For historical and political reasons, on-reserve populations have been explicitly excluded from most Statistics Canada surveys. However, despite common prejudice to the contrary, most on-reserve First Nations people file taxes. As a result, on-reserve First Nations populations are included on the T1FF.
There are a number of reasons why on (and off) reserve First Nations people file taxes, not least of which being in order to collect their tax-returns on tax garnered wages and to collect the same benefits that all Canadians receive such as the Canadian Child Tax Benefit.
The reason that SLID and T1FF produce such different results is that they gather very different types of information.
SLID interviews a random sample of Canadians who are not institutionalized and who are not living on reserve. The T1FF is constructed using tax-records provided to Statistics Canada by Canadian Revenue Agency. Anyone that files a tax return can be included in the T1FF.
The fact is, the cost of neglecting poverty to a province is just too high
Fact 5: We cannot ignore First Nations child poverty in Saskatchewan
More and more, children in Saskatchewan are First Nations children. First Nations people make up more than 10% of the Saskatchewan population and this share is projected to grow in the coming decades. Over half of them live on reserve.
What is more, First Nations populations tend to have more children, so that their share of the provincial child population is even larger. Unfortunately, Saskatchewan has the highest First Nations child poverty rates in the country. A shocking 64% of status First Nations children live in poverty in Saskatchewan.
These factors combine to make it so that including on-reserve First Nations populations in our provincial poverty calculations increases the level of poverty more than elsewhere.
For Canada as a whole, including on-reserve First Nations populations in our poverty estimates increases poverty levels by as much as 5 percentage points. When on-reserve First Nations children are included in child poverty estimates for Saskatchewan, provincial estimates shoot through the roof. Including on-reserve children increases the provincial poverty rate by as much as 10%!
Fact 6: We need to move beyond jurisdictional squabbles
At the end of the day, it seems obvious that we should use poverty rates based on the T1FF to track poverty in our province. However, to get there, we need a different approach. This past month the Government of Saskatchewan committed to developing a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy for our province. This is an important step along the road to the elimination of poverty in Saskatchewan. But, at best, it will largely only have jurisdiction over poverty captured by SLID.
This is an important step along the road to the elimination of poverty in Saskatchewan
Despite having to deal with the consequences of on-reserve poverty, for various historical reasons beyond their control, provincial governments have no jurisdiction over on-reserve populations. Ultimate authority for economic development and social services on reserves, lies with the federal government. Consecutive federal governments have systematically failed on-reserve First Nations populations throughout Canada. Saskatchewan bears a significantly disproportionate share of this neglect.
This stalemate, with federal governments refusing to live up to their responsibility, provincial governments loathe to step in and set precedent, leaves First Nations children to fall through the cracks. A new approach needs to be taken in the spirit of Jordan’s Principle, with whatever it takes to help children get out of poverty being done first, and the bills argued over later. Because the fact is, the cost of neglecting poverty to a province is just too high, at least $3.8 billion dollars per year in Saskatchewan alone and likely far higher when on-reserve poverty is taken into account.
Photo by Aman Desmuhk
Provincial governments that wait for a day when the feds step up will only see their economic and social fortunes drained in the meantime. In addition to committing to eliminate child poverty among off-reserve populations, the provincial government needs to speak out and put pressure on the federal government to live up to its responsibilities to on-reserve populations.
Furthermore, any approach to poverty reduction must include meaningful engagement with chiefs, councils and community members, followed up with real action to improve economic opportunities and living conditions on-reserve. Otherwise, whatever measure is used, First Nations children will continue to be over-represented in poverty, whether we measure it or not.
Campaign 2000 2014 report:
"Child Poverty 25 Years Later: We Can Fix This"
The Poverty Costs Campaign: povertycosts.ca