D- Saskatchewan Report Cards

Section 1: Experience of Poverty

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
People Feeling Worse off Compared to Last Year
49.7%
F
F
People Spending More than 30% of Income on Housing
38.9%
F
D-
People Having Trouble Accessing Health Care
18.7%
D
F
Government Support Recipients Who Say Rates are Insufficient to Keep up with Cost of Living
49.4%
D-
F
Percent of Income Spent on Fixed Costs beyond Housing
62.1%
F
D+
Overall
F
D-

Section 2: Poverty Measures

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Poverty Rate (MBM)
11.1%
F
F
Provincial Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line (Singles)
45%
D
D
Provincial Disability Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line
62%
D+
D+
Unemployment Rate
5.4%
D+
C-
Food Insecurity Rate
28%
F
D
Overall
D-
D-

Section 3: Material Deprivation

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Inadequate Standard of Living
35.9%
D-
C-
Severely Inadequate Standard of Living
25.6%
D
D+
Overall
D
C-

Section 4: Legislative Progress

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Legislative Progress
F
D
Overall
F
D
×

People in Saskatchewan responded to this year’s national survey with a clear message – they’re struggling to keep up with the cost of living and aren’t getting the support they need form their government. Without action soon, Saskatchewan risks being the second province to receive an overall failing grade in the next year’s Poverty Report Cards.

Poverty overview

Saskatchewan’s poverty rate of 11.1 per cent was slightly higher than Canada as a whole (9.9 per cent). As with the other prairie provinces, the pace at which poverty was reduced in Saskatchewan between 2015 and 2020 was considerably slower than the national average for nearly every demographic group in the province. This may reflect the reality of a commodity-heavy provincial economy—it creates significant numbers of well-paying jobs but can also be very volatile and result in dramatic layoffs.

Saskatchewan faces similar age-related challenges to those of other provinces across the country. For example, seniors who live alone in Saskatchewan have an 8.4 per cent poverty rate, which is more than double the overall rate for seniors of 4 per cent. However, both these numbers are slightly lower than the national average.

The child poverty rate is a different matter, though. About one-quarter of Saskatchewan’s population is under 18, giving it the highest proportion of children of any province in the country. This figure is of particular concern given that child poverty in the province is 10.2 per cent, which is notably higher than the national rate of 8.5 per cent. Two in five food bank visitors in Saskatchewan are children, the second-highest rate for this group in Canada.

Youth aged 18–24 also have a high poverty rate. At 15 per cent, it is slightly higher than the rate for youth in Canada as a whole (14 per cent).

Among working-aged adults in the province, 9 per cent live in poverty, down from 12 per cent in the previous census. This is particularly important to note because Saskatchewan claims to have the lowest tax and housing costs in the country for working parents with two children. This would suggest that low taxes, while somewhat helpful in terms of affordability, do not on their own create a uniquely competitive foundation for poverty reduction.

In Saskatchewan, 19.3 per cent of people who live alone experience poverty. Similarly, about 19 per cent of single parents in Saskatchewan live in poverty. This is higher than the Canadian rate for this group (14.4 per cent) and more than four times the poverty rate for couples with children in the province (4.2 per cent). One-quarter of all food bank visitors in the province come from single parent families, the highest rate of any province by far.

Poverty and Inequality

Saskatchewan struggles with poverty and inequality, particularly among Indigenous populations, single-parent families, Northern communities, recent immigrants, and individuals with some form of disability. Limited access to education, health care, and economic opportunities perpetuates social and economic exclusion.

Racialized people in Saskatchewan are more than twice as likely to have low incomes as people who are not racialized (16.7 per cent compared to 7.6 per cent).

Low incomes have resulted in a poverty rate of 12.8 per cent among racialized people in Saskatchewan. Among recent immigrants, the poverty rate jumps to 18 per cent. Immigrants who are over 16 years old are also nearly twice as likely to have a low income as non-immigrants (14.2 per cent compared to 7.9 per cent).

Meanwhile, non-permanent residents (people who have a work or study permit or have claimed refugee status) experience a poverty rate of 42.9 per cent.

The 2021 poverty rate among the Indigenous population in Saskatchewan is 15 per cent, which is markedly higher than the rate for this group in Canada as a whole (12 per cent). The poverty rate of 20 per cent among First Nations people in Saskatchewan is also higher than the national rate (14 per cent). As for Métis in Saskatchewan, the poverty rate was 10 per cent, slighter higher than the national rate of (9.2 per cent) for Métis people. Notably, while 11 per cent of Saskatchewan’s general population lives in overcrowded homes, where there is an insufficient number of bedrooms for the household, more than triple this rate applies to Indigenous individuals (34.3 per cent).

Labour and Education

On the surface, Saskatchewan’s economy looks relatively promising. With a 5 per cent unemployment rate and a workforce participation rate of 68 per cent (as of January 2024), the province is performing better than the national average. Under the surface, however, things are less rosy. Our national poll from this year found that 36 per cent of the province has difficulty accessing stable employment opportunities in their community. This is one of the highest figures for this indicator among all the provinces and a full 6 percentage points higher than the national average.

Furthermore, 43 per cent of people say low wages are affecting their ability to make ends meet, and 1 in 3 report that their mental health is impacting their ability to find work, work effectively, or maintain their finances. In both cases, Saskatchewan is tied for the highest rate of people who responded in this way among all the provinces.

Youth aged 15–29 who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) are at particular risk of poverty. In 2022, 11 per cent of youth in Saskatchewan were in this situation. Among Saskatchewan adults aged 25–64, 12.4 per cent did not have a high school diploma or equivalent. The rate of under-education among Saskatchewan men is particularly high, at 15.6 per cent.

The cost of living and affordable housing

Between December 2022 and December 2023, the overall price of goods and services in Saskatchewan increased by 2.7 per cent. In that time, the price of food in the province rose by 4.8 per cent. While this food inflation rate is less than that of Canada as a whole, 35 per cent of people in the province worry about feeding themselves or their family compared to 29 per cent nationally.

The cost of shelter increased by 5.2 per cent, which is less than the 6 per cent experienced nationally but still high. Among shelter costs, rent increased by 5 per cent and the costs of owning a home increased by 6 per cent. The lower price pressures on rent reflect the fact that Saskatchewan remains one of the most affordable jurisdictions in the country for rental costs, with both Regina and Saskatoon ranked as the most affordable cities in Canada.

Despite this strong foundation, 8.2 per cent of Saskatchewan residents are in core housing need, which is higher than the national average (7.2 per cent). This is particularly interesting because Saskatchewan has the highest share of social housing among its overall housing stock of all provinces in Canada—8.1 per cent as of Q3, 2023.

However, affordability does not necessarily mean adequate. A 2022 review of affordable housing programs found that in Saskatoon, only about 40 per cent of affordable housing units are considered to be in fair condition. As a result, 18.4 per cent of the Saskatoon Housing Authority’s units remain vacant and 19 per cent unoccupied, far exceeding the national averages of 1.5 per cent vacant and 3 per cent unoccupied.

Saskatchewan adopted its most recent poverty reduction strategy in 2016. That strategy set a target of reducing the number of residents who experience persistent poverty for two years or more by 50 per cent by 2025. But despite the dramatic economic upheavals caused by the pandemic and inflation, the province has yet to introduce a new strategy. While the overall rate of poverty has fallen across the province, the rate of people who experience persistent poverty remains unchanged. In 2015–16, 71.3 per cent of residents who entered poverty were still in poverty two years later. The rate was essentially the same in 2021–22, with 72 per cent of residents who were living in poverty remaining in that situation for more than one year. Given the population growth, this translates into a significantly higher number of people than in 2015. From 2015 to 2021, poverty rates declined by 25 per cent in the province versus nearly 50 per cent across Canada as a whole.

Some of this discrepancy can likely be attributed to the volatility of commodity and resource industries in the province. Although economic output officially contracted last year because of a poor agricultural season, Saskatchewan has the highest job vacancy rate and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. For some, this has resulted in significant gains in wealth and a reduction in household debt. But others have seen no improvement in their quality of life. For example, food bank usage in Saskatchewan rose by nearly a quarter (24.3%) between 2022 and 2023, as demand increased from modest income households, reflecting the difficulty of making ends meet during the recent inflation crisis. Food insecurity among households with children is also a major concern: Saskatchewan has the highest proportion of food bank users under 18 in the country (40% of all clients compared to the national rate of 33%).

Despite this situation, the provincial government has taken only a limited number of steps to address affordability. While it followed the practice of other provinces by introducing one-time affordability payments in 2022, it did not issue such payments last year. Since the launch of revised income support programs in 2019, there have been small and periodic increases to benefits, including a $30/month increase to the basic needs payment last year. In addition, Saskatchewan has yet to index its social assistance programs, even though households with higher incomes who pay tax continue to be afforded this treatment.

The overall generosity of its benefits places Saskatchewan in the middle of the provincial pack, and well ahead of Ontario and Alberta. Since the introduction of reforms in 2019, the overall caseload of beneficiaries has fallen, despite the significant economic turmoil during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this can be seen as a positive, it may also be indicative of more stringent eligibility standards.

The province has recently devoted additional resources to the creation of a provincial homelessness and addictions recovery strategy. It is investing $40.2 million over two years toward interventions for people experiencing homelessness, and $49.4 million over five years toward treatments for people experiencing addictions. The actions taken include an expansion of street intervention, shelter spaces, and in-patient treatment spaces. While this is an important boost to local capacity, there is some concern that the funding provided is not enough to meet the growing need in many communities, is not coordinated with the federal homelessness strategy, and refuses to consider evidence-based interventions for harm reduction like safe consumption sites.

Although the provincial government has not provided major financial support for the construction of new affordable housing, Saskatchewan was second only to British Columbia for the fastest increase in the number of affordable, rent-assisted units between 2016 and 2023. This increase has been aided in significant part by federal funding under the Rapid Housing Initiative and the joint federal-provincial priorities of the National Housing Strategy.

One notable innovation recently introduced by the Saskatchewan government is its Secondary Suite Incentive Grant Program, which provides up to $35,000 per homeowner who makes eligible renovations to their home to add a room or suite for renting. This is one of the most generous renovation grant programs in the country and is only meant to be available for a couple of years to spur new rental supply at a time of low vacancy and increasing rental rates. Unlike Nova Scotia, which requires the secondary unit to be rented at 20 per cent below the average market rate and forbids the units from being rented on a short-term basis while the homeowner carries an outstanding loan, Saskatchewan has not attached any regulations that would require homeowners to rent out their secondary unit at an affordable rate.

Many residents, particularly in remote and rural areas, lack access to high-speed internet and this has posed a difficult barrier to finding work and earning a decent income. Saskatchewan has the second-lowest penetration of broadband services of any province in Canada, and the province has taken only limited steps to address this, with no mention of any new investment in Budget 2024.

In the fall of 2024, Saskatchewan will hold a provincial election, and affordability issues are likely to be the focus of significant attention. To date, the official opposition has not announced what, if any, commitments it will make toward poverty reduction in its forthcoming campaign.

Accountability

1. Update and modernize the 2016 Poverty Reduction Strategy.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Given the significant change in economic conditions since 2016, including the current commodity boom in energy, natural resources, and agrifood industries, it is important that the province refocus its efforts with a better sense of what is needed to close the remaining gaps in poverty reduction.

Affordable Housing

2. Close the repair backlog for affordable housing by committing to repair 500 units per year until the repair backlog is fully exhausted
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

The provincial government plans to repair at least 3,290 social housing units between 2019/20 and 2027/28. Despite this goal, it has failed to commit to a target of more than 400 units per year in 2024/25. A renewed commitment of 500 repairs per year will ensure that people who are struggling today get the help they need before it is too late. Once repairs are complete, resources can then be directed at community housing development.

Income Support

3. Ensure that all residents benefit from Saskatchewan’s wealth
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Saskatchewan is one of the most prosperous places in Canada, thanks in large measure to its significant resource wealth. Despite this, many people still struggle because they do not have a decent income from work — for example, the province has the highest proportion in the country of food bank visitors who are under 18. As part of the updated Poverty Reduction Strategy recommended above, the province should use some of its resource wealth (which could include a targeted tax on excess profits of large potash producers) and 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.

The province should use a mix of tools to update the strategy and should pursue a target that would result in no family with a child falling below 85 per cent of the poverty line and no single, employable adult falling below 70 per cent. This would be generally consistent with, if not slightly better than, levels in the early 2000s during the last major commodities boom and before subsequent recessions and inflation eroded purchasing power. While there has been no coordination of efforts through a poverty reduction strategy, Saskatchewan did introduce a new employment incentive program in late 2023, however, it did come at the cost of two other programs and may result in worse outcomes for low-income families.

4. Improve and index Saskatchewan’s support programs.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Welfare income for households and individuals alike remains below a livable floor in Saskatchewan. Even parents with children, who potentially have access to some of the most generous support under social assistance, still fall below the deep poverty threshold. While Saskatchewan has taken some steps in recent years to raise social assistance rates, these remain arbitrary and not part of a broader effort to address affordability. 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 would ensure that the value of benefits is not eroded by inflation.

Infrastructure that Works for People

5. Close Saskatchewan’s broadband gap.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

While Saskatchewan has made significant strides in increasing access to broadband services, penetration remains the lowest nationally and is well behind that of neighbouring Alberta. This limits economic opportunity for all residents, particularly those living in rural and remote areas. The province should use its leverage as an owner of SaskTel to direct the corporation to expand its current RuralFibre Initiative, which is already projected to extend the fibre network to about 80 per cent of the province. This plan should focus on raising SaskTel’s coverage target to 90 per cent by 2025 and 95 per cent by 2028.

Decent Work that Pays

6. Raise the minimum wage to match Ontario’s going forward. 
In Progress
In Progress
In Progress
Saskatchewan’s minimum wage is set to rise to $15/hour this year, but that will still leave it trailing behind Ontario’s and Manitoba’s minimum wages. As one of the richest provinces in the country, with steady and low unemployment, Saskatchewan can well afford to give an important boost to the standard of living of its poorest residents. Matching the Ontario rate and indexing for the Consumer Price Index going forward would be an effective way of helping the most vulnerable groups of the population without sacrificing competitiveness