Families in crisis before COVID-19 will be ‘worse off’ coming out pandemic says advocate

The head of a anti-poverty advocacy group in Manitoba says it’s worried about families and the austerity measures governments are likely to put in place, post-pandemic.

“We’re very concerned. There’s a short term effect of balancing your budget and there is the long term harm of not addressing the social deficit that poverty causes,” says Kate Kehler, executive director of the Winnipeg Social Planning Council (WSPC).

The WPSC is among a group of organizations pushing for the continuation of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, also known as CERB, post-pandemic.

The CERB is federal benefit that provides $2,000 every four weeks for up to four months to those who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CERB is more generous than what some make as working parents or are receiving from welfare benefits.

Kehler says a living wage in Manitoba would be $16 an hour.

Currently, the provincial minimum wage is $11.65 an hour.

According to a report released in April by Campaign 2000, a coalition WSPC is part of, there are 85,450 children living in poverty in Manitoba.

Kehler says the data shows how bad things were for many families prior to the pandemic.

Campaign 2000 is a national coalition that monitors progress and setbacks to end child and family poverty in Canada. It was initially formed to hold the federal government to its 1989 unanimous motion in the House of Commons to end child poverty by the year 2000.

The Manitoba report card says at the current pace, it will take 697.5 years to end child poverty in Manitoba.

Manitoba is home to three of the five federal ridings with the highest child poverty rates in Canada.

While the focus may be on the kids, the fact is children are in poverty because their parents are.

“These kids and their families were in crisis before COVID-19, are hurting even more now with all the closures or service reductions in the community supports they rely on and will be even worse off when the rest of us come out of this,” Kehler wrote in the press release for the report card.

Kehler says poverty is racialized and gendered and says it will be woman who are most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report also says, in Manitoba, the multi-generational effects of colonialism are a leading cause of child poverty. Cultural disruption and dispossession of the land in Canada has created, amongst Indigenous peoples a near total psychological, physical and financial dependency on the state.

“Unfortunately, often times when we bring out statistics around say Indigenous peoples being higher impacted by poverty, some people take the message that has something to do with their race, when we want to highlight that it’s actually due to racism,” says Kehler. “So we have systemic racism, we know that it disproportionately affects Indigenous people. We know that when we have 85 per cent of the people who are incarcerated right now in the province of Manitoba are Indigenous, we know that is because we have systemic issues.

“It is certainly more likely for somebody to be involved in the justice system because of their race,” says Kehler who is also the former executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba.

Kehler, who is also the chair of the Restorative Justice Association of Manitoba, says when people are in desperate situations, they make desperate decisions.

Kehler says crime is directly related to the “addictions and mental health issues that comes out of poverty.”

In 2019, the city of Winnipeg was experiencing an unprecedented level of crime and recorded it’s highest number of homicides.

Kehler believes policing is not going to solve the crime problem.

“I would say as a society, we have defaulted to the Winnipeg Police service to actually deal with every single issue that we have failed to deal with in our other systems,” says Kehler.

“They are not social workers, they are not mental health workers, some of them have training, some of them have a natural affinity for it, other ones are not. They should be a police force because that’s what they are but their involvement should be the last line that we get to and unfortunately we’ve defaulted and we’ve made them the first,” says Kehler.

Winnipeg police have shot and killed four people in the city in 2020, including three Indigenous people in the span of ten days.

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