FREDERICTON - The number of people in deep poverty increased by five per cent between 2009 and 2014 in New Brunswick, although the situation has improved for many low-income earners, says the final report on the province's first poverty reduction plan.
The government's goal was to reduce deep poverty by 50 per cent by 2014. Deep poverty is defined as having an income under half the provincial poverty threshold, which would be making less than $9,500 a year for an individual and less than $16,000 for a lone parent with two children.
Stephane Leclair, the executive director of the New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Corp., said it's not clear why the number of people in deep poverty increased but there are now about 10,000 people considered to be the poorest of the poor who are homeless and not accessing government programs for help.
"Most of the time we can't access those people. They don't access the services nor do they file income tax," Leclair said Thursday.
"We're trying to find out who they are and do a better job of helping those people because they are in desperate need."
The report says poverty has been reduced anywhere from 25 to 43 per cent since 2009 for female single-parent families, two-parent families and individuals . The goal was 25 per cent.
Ed Doherty, the minister responsible for the corporation, highlighted the implementation of the provincial drug plan, and new dental and vision programs for children of low-income families as positive steps, adding that the government has to be strategic in how it spends to reduce poverty.
"The strategic investments have to be made in early childhood intervention, in education, in preparing people for the workforce, in housing and management of foods," Doherty said.
But Jean-Claude Basque of the New Brunswick Common Front for Social Justice says more money is needed now.
By the end of this year, he said, New Brunswick's minimum wage of $10.30 per hour will be the ninth lowest in the country.
"The number of social assistance recipients has experienced a slight decrease between 2009 and 2014, but their total incomes is still way below the poverty line," he said in a statement.
Green Leader David Coon said he sees a lot of people at his Fredericton office who are looking for help because they can't pay their rent and still feed their family.
He wants to see social assistance rates increased and other improvements for those who are considered to be in deep poverty.
"Deep income poverty is directly related to the very poor access to mental health care we have in New Brunswick, the poor access to housing for the homeless, and people living with disabilities in poverty," he said.
Monique Richard of Richibucto used provincial programs and help in her community to get out of poverty and is now chairwoman of the economic and social inclusion corporation's board of directors.
She has a brother who is among the deep poor, who often resist efforts to help them, said Richard.
"I'm not sure how we're going to do it. There's a reason why those people are off the grid," she said.
Leclair said 21 of the 22 priority items in the first plan have been completed. Work is now underway on the objectives of the 28 items in the new plan that runs until 2019.
But Coon said the new plan is weak and doesn't include the kind of concrete actions needed to address deep poverty.