At YW Calgary, we work with women on some of the hardest days of their lives. Days when they’re leaving an abusive relationship, struggling with homelessness or poverty, navigating their way forward to a new job or learning to speak English.

Approximately 80 percent of the families we support are low income, many of them reliant on some form of government income program. Often, women in a YW counselling program or employment workshop struggle to focus on thinking forward when they can’t see past the stress of making rent or securing food for their next meal.

A new policy research report released on February 14, 2019 by the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary draws attention to the inadequacy of the financial support provided to Albertans who access income programs in their time of need.

Housing is the foundation for quality of life and for families with low income, changes in housing costs impact spending on other necessities; therefore, as highlighted in the report, tracking the cost of housing should be central to measuring the poverty line. By guaranteeing that no more than a certain percentage of income needs to be devoted to housing, families on income support would have greater financial stability.

Since the cost of living varies throughout Alberta, especially for housing, it is critical that social assistance and other forms of supports are adequate to meet basic needs. For example, the average cost of renting in Calgary is 26 percent lower than in Fort McMurray, but 21 percent higher than in Red Deer. However, the amount of income support currently received is the same regardless of where one lives in the province.

A change is needed to ensure that provincial income support rates take into consideration that poverty is deeper in some parts of the province than others. The report proposes an increase in core housing benefits for income support recipients as a potential approach to bring the level of social assistance closer to the poverty line.

Meeting women’s basic needs through appropriate and humane income support means YW, as a service provider, can focus on the deeper work of supporting women and their families to heal, learn and grow towards a brighter future.