D Alberta Report Cards

Section 1: Experience of Poverty

Indicator Data
Grade
People Feeling Worse off Compared to Last Year
49.4%
F
People Spending More than 30% of Income on Housing
34.8%
D+
People Having Trouble Accessing Health Care
15.0%
C-
Government Support Recipients Who Say Rates Are Insufficient to Keep Up with Cost of Living
48.5%
D-
Percent of Income Spent on Fixed Costs beyond Housing
54.5%
C+
Overall
D

Section 2: Poverty Measures

Indicator Data
Grade
Poverty Rate (MBM)
7.8%
D
Provincial Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line (Singles)
32%
F
Provincial Disability Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line
37%
F
Unemployment Rate
5.7%
D
Food Insecurity Rate
21.8%
F
Overall
D-

Section 3: Material Deprivation

Indicator Data
Grade
Inadequate Standard of Living
29.8%
F
Severely Inadequate Standard of Living
13.8%
D-
Overall
D-

Section 4: Legislative Progress

Indicator Data
Grade
Legislative Progress
C
Overall
C
×

Within months of the 2019 United Conservative Party (UCP) settling into government, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada. The party experienced internal struggles throughout the first couple years of the pandemic and found a new leader in 2022. During this period (2019-2022), Alberta saw a 73% increase in food bank usage, more than double the national rate of increase and the highest rate in the country. Earlier in 2023, Alberta went through another election, which saw the UCP hold its position as governing party.

Since 2019, with the shifts in parties and leaders, and the consequences of a global pandemic, it seems that Alberta has struggled to settle into a direction on poverty. As the government begins building up from the challenges introduced in the past four years, it will need to direct much attention to helping those who are struggling with these new challenges and to help those who have been struggling for even longer.

Mental Health Top of Mind

Across the province, mental health and work are often pinpointed as key contributors to poverty. Ranking above the national average, 1 in 3 Albertans say that their mental health is impacting their ability to find work, work effectively, or maintain their finances. The link between work and mental health is not surprising given that half of the province feels they are financially worse off than a year ago. In addition, a staggering 56% say that addiction is an issue in their community that needs to be addressed.

Employment Challenges

Contributing to this mental health challenge is the number of individuals reporting that low wages are impacting their ability to make ends meet and that they struggle to access fresh and affordable food. This challenge has resulted in changes to food bank visits. In Alberta, 20% of all food bank visitors’ main income source is through employment – this is 6 percentage points higher than the national average, indicating that wages in the province are resulting in more visitors. Moreover, the number of people who cite difficulty accessing employment opportunities within their community is six percentage points higher than the national average. Alberta’s unemployment rate of 5.7% is one of the highest in the country, as is their long term unemployment, which makes up nearly 25% of those who are unemployed.

Cost of Living Adding Fuel to the Housing Fire

It comes as no surprise that the combination of poor mental health and inadequate work has led to a desire to reduce the cost of utilities in Alberta. Residents who live on low incomes are spending as much as 55% of their income on fixed costs like Internet, groceries, and transportation. Paired with the large numbers of residents paying more than 30% of their income on housing, there is little money left at the end of the month to feel financially secure.

There is a critical shortage of affordable housing throughout the province. Rental vacancies in Calgary are at their lowest level since 2014, just before the onset of the last commodities recession. Alberta urgently needs to build more affordable rental housing. Construction has not kept pace with population growth in recent years, and less than 5% of the Calgary rental stock is affordable for residents who earn less than $36,000.

As more Albertans struggle with the cost of housing and basic goods, the number of food bank visitors has continued to rise. Alberta has one of the highest rates of food bank visits in the country, which is a clear sign that more and more families cannot afford to put food on the table.

After years of the New Democratic Party (NDP) being in government, the 2019 UCP of Alberta fundamentally reshaped the province’s policy landscape. The UCP aimed to roll back some of the social spending introduced by the previous NDP government. This included halting regular increases to the minimum wage and reducing it from $15 to $13 for youth workers.

Additionally, the Alberta Child Benefit and the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit were merged into a single program, the Alberta Child and Family Benefit (ACFB), in July 2020. Critics argue that the ACFB provides approximately $40 million less to Alberta families than the initial separate programs did.

Overall, while some progress has been made through various programs, the Government of Alberta only recently introduced a plan to tackle affordability, the Affordability Action Plan. While early actions show that the plan is leading to legislative changes, time will tell just how effective the program is. In addition, while Alberta introduced a much-needed affordable housing strategy in 2021, progress on this issue is unclear.

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

  • fund and create more robust support programs,
  • improve accessibility to affordable housing and mental health resources, and
  • address concerns related to precarious employment.

Moreover, local experts maintain that policymakers must prioritize groups with specific needs—for example, Indigenous peoples, single earners with low incomes, and children—and that the government must address the lack of mental health resources and promote holistic school nutrition programs across the province.

Alberta’s 2023–2024 budget focuses on large investments in health care and education, with minimal investments to reduce poverty and no new initiatives for affordable housing in the province. The budget included increases to social assistance—for example, a 6% increase and indexed to inflation for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Income Support, and Alberta Seniors Benefit, and $600 over six months to AISH, Income Support, and Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD)—but the increases are nominal given the rising costs of living.

Moving forward, Alberta needs to explore more ways to address the growing mental health and addictions challenges in the province, including health-centred approaches and monetary supports to reduce heavy financial burdens on individuals and families living on low incomes.

Accountability
    1. Introduce a provincial poverty reduction strategy

While Alberta made significant headway in the reduction of child poverty between 2015 and 2020 (down by 8 percentage points) thanks to its provincial family benefits and the federal Canada Child Benefit, the lack of a comprehensive plan with clear goals and indicators stymies the ability of government and stakeholders to work together with a common vision.

 

Affordable Housing
  1. Expand the Temporary Rent Assistance Benefit to all Albertans waiting for affordable housing

Approximately 24,000 Albertans are currently waiting for subsidized affordable housing. Thanks to joint federal and provincial funding, the Temporary Rent Assistance Benefit provides up to two years of support of between $140 and $340 per month, depending on household size. It is designed to help Albertans who were working but recently became unemployed. To prevent Albertans from falling into poverty or becoming homeless, the program should be expanded to cover all residents on a waitlist for affordable housing.

  1. Dedicate 0.5% of the provincial budget every year to affordable rental housing construction

To show leadership, we recommend the province establish a Housing Accelerator Fund with dedicated new funding of at least 0.5% of the province’s annual operating and capital budget. In 2023 alone, this would provide nearly $350 million in new construction financing. The funding could be divided across multiple streams to provide a combination of supports to non-profit providers to acquire land and preserve existing rental stock, extend capital subsidies, and provide tax-related incentives to market developers to include a dedicated share of affordable units as part of new projects.

 

Adequate Income Support
  1. Transform the $600 affordability payment into a comprehensive Alberta Family Benefit that supports all working households earning less than $50,000

As part of its affordability plan, Alberta previously announced one-time payments of $600 to families with children and seniors earning less than $180,000. This plan excluded the poorest residents who are single. The government should make this payment permanent, but as part of a comprehensive earnings supplement for families earning up to twice the poverty line.

  1. Increase and index Alberta income assistance

Social assistance rates for Albertans who are not permanently disabled are among the least generous in Canada, covering less than 40% of the poverty line for a single person living in Calgary. A future provincial government must take steps to rectify this. Last year, the Alberta government announced a plan to reintroduce benefit indexation, having cancelled indexation upon coming to power in 2019. While this provided a 6% increase in benefit rates starting in January, this only makes up for the recent bout of inflation from 2021 to 2022. A further 6% increase would approximately restore benefits to their previous level and end the inflation tax on the province’s poorest residents.

 

Decent Work that Pays
  1. Raise the minimum wage to $17/hour and index it to inflation going forward

The lowest-paid Albertans have not seen an increase in their minimum wage for five years, even as inflation has increased to its highest point in 40 years. BC increased its minimum wage to $16.75/hour this summer, so a parallel increase in Alberta’s minimum wage would not jeopardize jobs or competitiveness with employers across the region.

  1. Introduce an Alberta Opportunities Award for Albertans with low incomes transitioning to pre-apprenticeship training

A job that pays a good, livable wage is one of the most sustainable ways to reduce poverty. Given the province’s stated objective in increasing opportunities in the skilled trades and reducing job vacancies, we recommend the provincial government introduce an Alberta Opportunities Award, which would reward Albertans with low incomes on social assistance who seek out pre-apprenticeship training and/or continue on to a full classroom-based training program. In recognition of this commitment, the province would provide a one-time award of up to six months of social assistance support, paid in two instalments, the first upon enrolment and the second after a period of continuous enrolment. This program could be funded in part by the Canada Alberta Job Grant.