Meili calls for a poverty reduction strategy, not a cut to income assistance programs

The Saskatchewan NDP is raising concerns about this week’s income assistance program overhaul, saying it amounts to a cut that forces people into impossible choices while they struggle with rising costs. The new Saskatchewan Income Support Program unveiled this week will require people on assistance to pay their own utility bills, but fails to provide enough money to cover those bills. It also mandates social workers to provide “motivational interviews” on making ends meet.

“The cost of living has gone up steeply over the last decade, but assistance rates haven’t budged,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “When you give somebody who is unable to work less to live on than the cost of their monthly bills, no amount of motivational interviewing is going to make up the shortfall. It’s magical thinking.

“If you’ve got your rent, your power and your water bill to pay but you can’t afford all three, what kind of awful choice are you forcing people into? They’re setting vulnerable people up to fail, plain and simple.”

Meili pointed out the irony of this program overhaul coming the same week as advocates in Regina unveiled a plan to end homelessness, saying Social Services’ new SISP amounts to a strategy to increase homelessness. Instead of cutting programs like special diets and the rental housing supplement, the NDP said that a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy would save millions in downstream costs.

Social Services Critic Nicole Rancourt also called into question the decision to not inject more resources into staffing levels to deliver the program’s motivational interviews, noting that there are 37,000 households in Saskatchewan receiving income assistance.

“It’s not reasonable to expect overworked social workers with massive caseloads to take on delivering motivational interviews, and that it will be the silver bullet to solve all the needs of people on assistance,” Rancourt said. “That simply doesn’t match the reality that social workers or people on assistance face every day.”