FREDERICTON (GNB) – The following statement was issued today by Claire Roussel-Sullivan, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty Sunday, Oct. 17:

This Oct.17, New Brunswickers will commemorate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which was first declared by the United Nations in 1992. In 2005, social condition was added as a protected ground of discrimination to the New Brunswick Human Rights Act. The push for legislative change was led by poverty activists and New Brunswickers living on social assistance, as they saw the increasing discrimination and societal exclusion of individuals because of their financial conditions. The inclusion of social condition in the act meant that New Brunswickers are now protected from discrimination or disadvantages resulting from their source of income, occupation or level of education.

Poverty is an important human rights issue. Having access to food, affordable lodging, medical care and education impacts one’s economic rights, such as equality of access to employment, housing and public services. That’s why the New Brunswick Human Rights Act is an important legal protection for all New Brunswickers, particularly for those facing discrimination due to their source of income, occupation or level of education. For many years, people most likely to file a human rights complaint have been people with a physical or mental disability, who are often people living in poverty or on low incomes.

According to 2019 Statistics Canada data, New Brunswick continued to report one of the lowest median after-tax income in Canada. Furthermore, the 2020 NB Child Poverty Report Card still reports New Brunswick as having the sixth highest child poverty rate in the country, a matter which has likely worsened due to the pandemic’s impact on income, access to affordable lodging and every day basic needs.

Some of the problems faced by low-income individuals are not due to poverty itself, but due to the myths and stereotypes about poverty that are sometimes used to justify complacency and inaction. Poverty can happen to almost anyone due to sudden unemployment, illness, family breakdown, or addiction issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these issues and placed even more New Brunswickers in precarious socio-economic conditions.

In the last few years New Brunswick has seen the development of many anti-poverty initiatives, such as the 2021 Social Assistance reforms to improve the support systems for New Brunswickers living in poverty. The reform saw changes in the calculation of social assistance eligibility, the increase of wage exemptions to support the transition of individuals to full-time employment, the elimination of shelter reductions, and the implementation of a new definition for hearing impairment. Fredericton and Moncton have also implemented new housing initiatives to tackle the growing issue of homelessness and unaffordable housing in New Brunswick. While these initiatives are a great step towards building an equal society for all New Brunswickers, much work is still needed to dismantle the socio-economic barriers and disadvantages that perpetuate the poverty cycle in our province.

As we mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty this weekend, I urge New Brunswickers to consider how they can eradicate socio-economic stereotypes, prevent social condition discrimination, and support lower-income individuals in our communities to make lasting progress against poverty in New Brunswick.