Saskatchewan D

SaskatchewanReport Card

Section 1: Experience of Poverty

Indicator Data Grade
People Feeling Worse off Compared to Last Year
49.3% F
People Spending More than 30% of Income on Housing
36.0% D-
People Having Trouble Accessing Health Care
21.2% F
Government Support Recipients Who Say Rates are Insufficient to Keep up with Cost of Living
58.8% F
Percent of Income Spent on Fixed Costs beyond Housing
57.7% D+
Overall D-

Section 2: Poverty Measures

Indicator Data Grade
Poverty Rate (MBM)
9.1% F
Social Assistance as a Percent of the Poverty Line (Singles)
45% D
Disability Assistance as a Percent of the Poverty Line
62% D+
Unemployment Rate
4.7% C-
Food Insecurity Rate
20.3% D
Overall D-

Section 3: Material Deprivation

Indicator Data Grade
Inadequate Standard of Living
25.4% C-
Severely Inadequate Standard of Living
11.9% D+
Overall C-

Section 4: Legislative Progress

Indicator Data Grade
Legislative Progress
D
Overall D
×

Saskatchewan’s poverty landscape is unique compared to that of most other provinces. Two of the main factors that set it apart are the significant Indigenous population, which accounts for 16% of the total population, and the fact that 42% of the general population resides in either Saskatoon or Regina. While economic challenges such as housing affordability and rent inflation are prevalent across the prairies, Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan are disproportionately affected by increasing housing costs.

Any efforts to reduce poverty in Saskatchewan must therefore account for and coincide with meaningful Indigenous engagement and reconciliation. While this is unquestionably the case throughout the country, the success of any provincial poverty reduction strategy in Saskatchewan hinges on the involvement and support of Indigenous communities.

The poverty challenges faced by residents in Saskatchewan are shaped by both geography and access (both physical and theoretical).

Physical Access to Services

A significant portion of Saskatchewan’s population resides outside of urban areas and lacks access to basic services: 72% of individuals indicate that infrastructure in remote communities is an important policy issue and 75% say that residents in isolated rural areas are not getting enough attention.

One of the most significant issues for residents in isolated areas is access to broadband services. These services are particularly important for communities where economic opportunities are more readily available online than locally. While Saskatchewan has made significant strides in increasing access to broadband services, coverage remains 10 percentage points lower than in neighbouring Alberta. This limits economic opportunity for all residents, particularly those living in rural and remote areas.

Addressing poverty in these regions requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account the unique challenges and needs of rural communities.

 

Navigating the Social Safety Net

The provincial government has not taken sufficient action to address underlying issues such as access to benefits, the growing cost of living, and housing affordability. Nearly half of the survey respondents from Saskatchewan stated that they do not know what benefits they are eligible for and find the tax system difficult to navigate. This difficulty may explain why only 3% of the population in Saskatchewan is receiving a housing benefit, compared to 11% nationally.

 

Stretched Too Thin

The low number of people receiving housing benefit is particularly concerning given that 36% of the population spends more than 30% of their income on housing. Paired with the fact that residents in the province with low incomes are spending as much as 58% of their income on fixed costs like Internet, groceries, and transportation, there is a real concern that people do not have enough money left over at the end of the month to feel financially secure.

The result of this financial stretch is that over one-third of the population is struggling to access fresh and affordable food, which is well beyond the national average.

 

Mental Health and Addictions

The number of people who say that they are financially worse off than they were last year is much higher in Saskatchewan than in the rest of the country (49% compared to 43%). In addition, 3 in 5 people report that addiction is an issue in their communities. These figures highlight the link between finances and mental health and addictions.

While Saskatchewan took valuable steps to combat poverty reduction with the introduction of the provincial poverty reduction strategy and its goal of reducing the number of people experiencing poverty by 50% by 2025, the current strategy has not been updated or improved since 2016. Although Canada as a whole has come close to achieving a 50% reduction in poverty (thanks in part to significant pandemic supports), Saskatchewan has not. From 2015 to 2021, poverty rates declined by only 25% in the province.

Under Premier Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party, two key pieces of legislation concerning poverty reduction in the province have been passed.

First, in 2019, the government announced plans for the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program. In 2021, everyone who received any form of provincial social support was moved into the SIS program. All other programs were phased out. The program has been repeatedly criticized by advocates who argue it does not provide sufficient support.

Second, in 2020, the Saskatchewan Housing Benefit was introduced to support households who spend more than 50% of their annual income on housing costs and have a pre-tax household income of below $43,100 (single people and couples). Depending on the household size, the monthly benefit ranges from $150 to $250.

In December 2020, this benefit was expanded to include people living in private rental accommodation and in community housing. Despite its introduction, as previously highlighted, Saskatchewan still has the lowest housing support reach in the country, lagging behind the national average by seven percentage points.

The poor condition of existing affordable housing has also stymied efforts to assist families and individuals living on low incomes. For example, a 2022 review of affordable housing programs from the Community-University Institute for Social Research reveals that in Saskatoon, only about 40% of affordable housing units are considered as being in fair condition. This finding led to 18.4% of the Saskatoon Housing Authority’s units remaining vacant and 19% unoccupied, far exceeding the national averages of 1.5% vacant and 3% unoccupied.

It should be noted that the province is set to record billion dollar surpluses in 2022–23 and 2023–24, thanks to a return of high commodity prices and an improved fiscal outlook post–COVID-19. Some of this wealth has been shared in the form of one-time affordability payments, but those payments represent short-term and inadequate responses to the systemic barriers to economic participation that residents face.

Local experts believe that to address poverty effectively, the government must:

  • better identify and help those who are falling through the cracks of the social safety net,
  • increase support for non-status Indigenous peoples, and
  • address mental health and addictions across the province.

Moreover, local experts are urging a focus on prioritizing key groups, including Indigenous peoples, newcomers, youth, and single working-age Canadians.

Addressing poverty in Saskatchewan requires a holistic approach that brings together a diverse range of voices and experiences. Many critics believe that the current provincial government has cut back on essential programs, leaving many communities that are vulnerable to poverty without adequate support.

Given rising inflation and housing costs, urgent action is needed to lift more people above the poverty line. The government must prioritize poverty reduction and invest in effective and equitable policies to tackle the current crisis.

Accountability
  1. Update and modernize the 2016 Poverty Reduction Strategy

While Canada has arguably already achieved Saskatchewan’s own poverty reduction goals, the province has not. Given the significant change in economic conditions since the release of the provincial government’s strategy in 2016, including the current commodity boom in the energy, natural resources, and agri-food industries, it is important for the province to refocus its efforts with a better sense of what is needed to close the remaining gaps.

 

Affordable Housing
  1. Close the repair backlog for affordable housing so residents can actually make use of all affordable housing units

The 2022–2023 housing action plan has a current target of only 290 units for social housing unit repairs in 2022–23, estimated at $17 million. This is woefully inadequate. These efforts need to be stepped up and broadened, with the goal of repairing at least 500 units a year until the current repair backlog is fully exhausted and then redeploying this capacity to build new units. This will not only improve the living conditions of people who need access to affordable housing but also provide an important economic boost via construction jobs and skilled trades opportunities.

 

Income Support
  1. Ensure that all residents benefit from Saskatchewan’s wealth

As part of the updates to the Poverty Reduction Strategy recommended above, the province should use its renewed fiscal strength to invest in people. This includes:

  • improving the adequacy of basic income supports,
  • introducing increased financial incentives to work, and
  • helping families living on low incomes with the cost of raising a child and renting.

Using a mix of tools, the province should use the review to pursue a target that no family with a child falls below 85% of the poverty line and single, employable adults achieve a minimum of 70%. This would be generally consistent with, if not slightly better than, levels reached in the early 2000s, during the last major commodities boom and before subsequent recessions and inflation eroded purchasing power.

  1. Index Saskatchewan’s support programs

Welfare incomes for households and individuals alike remain below a livable floor in Saskatchewan. Even some parents with dependent children, who could receive some of the most generous support under social assistance, still fall below the deep poverty threshold. While Saskatchewan took some steps in its most recent provincial budget to raise social assistance rates, they remain arbitrary. The province has not extended its recent re-indexation of income tax brackets and credits to social assistance, which it must do. In concert with our other recommendation for improving the adequacy of benefits for all residents, indexation will ensure that benefits remain meaningful regardless of inflation.
 

Infrastructure that Works for People
  1. Close Saskatchewan’s broadband gap with Alberta

The province should leverage its status as an owner of SaskTel to direct the corporation to expand its current RuralFibre Initiative, which is already projected to extend the telecom’s fibre network to about 80% of the province. This plan should focus on raising SaskTel’s coverage target to 90% by 2025 and 95% by 2028.

 

Decent Work that Pays
  1. Raise the minimum wage to $16.50/hour by 2024 and index it to inflation going forward

Saskatchewan has the lowest minimum wage of all the provinces and territories. It is currently set at $13/hour, which is $2/hour behind Alberta’s current rate and $1.15/hour behind Manitoba’s. There are plans to increase it in Saskatchewan to $14 in October 2023 and $15 in October 2024, but these increases will keep Saskatchewan’s minimum wage the lowest in the prairies. While efforts to index personal income tax (PIT) to inflation have been proposed, similar measures to ensure the minimum wage grows with inflation remain muted. An additional annual increase of 75 cents per hour to the planned increases and a further indexation to inflation going forward will not only assist households with low incomes but also ensure Saskatchewan’s labour market remains competitive with its neighbours.