This article is excerpted from The Brief, 2018, SK Conference of the United Church of Canada. The Brief is composed of annual meeting policy decisions or recommendations by the membership of the former Conference, now Living Skies Regional Council. The resulting document is then made public and presented to the SK provincial government and opposition by a delegation of church members, as well as partners in provincial and Indigenous social movements. It is a public witness to social concerns held by the community of the United Church of Canada in Saskatchewan.
SK Conference, the United Church of Canada, calls upon the Government of Saskatchewan to implement a Saskatchewan Anti-Poverty Act in order to ensure that the social and economic rights it has committed itself to protect under international law are enshrined in enforceable legislation.
As people of faith we believe that we are called to seek the common good. We also recognize that the God of our scriptures maintains the cause of those in need (Psalm 140:12) and we are called to defend the rights of the poor (Proverbs 31:9). We believe this means that we are to promote the rights of low-income people in the public arena.
Low-income Canadians hold basic economic and social rights under the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This has not been widely publicized.
Adequate income security, housing and childcare, a living wage and pay equity are some of the rights that Canada, with the approval of all of the provinces, committed itself to uphold when the Covenant was ratified in 1976. When federal and provincial governments do not ensure these rights they contravene international law. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been very critical of Canada and the provinces for not ensuring these rights in such a wealthy nation. After 42 years we are still without economic and social rights legislation and we continue to see the erosion of income security.
Recent provincial budgets have seen significant cuts to income assistance programs. This has included cuts to funeral coverage, home repairs, special diets, the Transitional Employment Allowance, the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement, the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability for seniors and most recently the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement.
The recent cuts would be hurtful enough if they were to a more adequate income security system. The reality is that Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability rates have not increased in three years, social assistance rates have not increased in eleven years and the Transitional Employment Allowance benefits are lower than they were a decade ago.
Legislated social and economic rights are needed to protect vulnerable people but they would also have far reaching benefits for the province as a whole. The 2015 Poverty Costs Campaign found that there is a $3.8 billion price tag to poverty each year. Public health research consistently shows that those societies that have a narrower gap between rich and poor are healthier, happier and have a better quality of life.
Saskatchewan could once again play a role in pioneering progressive social legislation that becomes a model for the rest of Canada by recognizing social and economic rights in enforceable legislation.