Poverty handbook offers practical policy suggestions

thechronicleherald.ca – news/Canada
Fri, May 13, 2011.   By Heather Scoffield, The Canadian Press, Ottawa

Forget grandiose talk about a national poverty strategy.

Some of the country’s foremost thinkers on social policy have put together a handbook of ready-to-use options for decision-makers seeking to help the most vulnerable.

The 50 suggestions are designed to be practical and are far from revolutionary, aimed at tweaking existing policies or adding to existing frameworks.

“The approach is very practical, pragmatic and policy-ready,” said Alan Broadbent, chairman of the Toronto-based Maytree Foundation that spearheaded the report.

The foundation is a privately funded group that supports research at several social-policy think-tanks.

The report recommends making tax credits refundable so that the poor can benefit. It also calls for better protections for seasonal and temporary workers, improvements to employment insurance and income support for caregivers.

The report urges electoral reform so that rural areas no longer have a disproportionately strong voice in Parliament.

The work was inspired by the fallout from the recession, Broadbent said.

“The recession revealed Canada’s strengths: a diverse economy, a strong banking system, and a cautious, but enabling, regulatory regime,” he wrote in the foreword to the report.

“But it also revealed our weaknesses. Too many, mostly young people and newcomers, lost their jobs and discovered that the social safety net was inadequate to protect them from poverty.”

Now, with governments fighting large deficits, the researchers are worried that budget cuts will hurt vulnerable people who have yet to feel the economic recovery.

In an interview, Broadbent said he realizes social policy is often not at the top of the priority list for many governments, but by compiling a list of “policy-ready” options, the researchers hope to be able to seize the moment — if and when it comes.

“They’re things that governments can actually do,” he said. “It’s really a question of waiting for the moments of opportunity.”

Recent major reports on poverty have called on the federal government to adopt a national poverty strategy or a national housing strategy. But the Harper government brushed such recommendations away, saying poverty and housing were mainly matters of provincial jurisdiction.

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