Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut June 13, 2013 - 12:04 pm

Nunavut to move on welfare reform, child-rearing, healing

Five-year poverty reduction plan to be unveiled this fall

Monica Ell, Nunavut's family services minister, speaks to reporters June 12. Her new department has taken over responsibility for income support, which used to be handled within the education department. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Monica Ell, Nunavut's family services minister, speaks to reporters June 12. Her new department has taken over responsibility for income support, which used to be handled within the education department. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

After a three-day consultation meeting in Iqaluit, Nunavut officials declared June 12 that a five-year poverty reduction plan for the territory will focus on three big items: healing and well-being, child development and parenting skills, and a “progressive” change within the income support system.

The Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. will unveil that plan in the fall of this year and aim to start carrying it out in 2014.

“Developing a shared plan for action takes time and frank conversations need to be taking place, and a lot of mutual learning,” Monica Ell, Nunavut’s family services minister and a co-chair of the meeting, told reporters.

About 70 people from around Nunavut met in in Iqaluit between June 10 and June 12 for a gathering called the Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

At that meeting, which Ell co-chaired, participants from Inuit organizations, government, community groups and business talked about the priorities the GN’s Makimaniq poverty reduction plan should emphasize.

To that end, the agreed to continue a “holistic” approach to the Makimaniq plan (the term “holistic” describing a way of looking at the interconnected factors that constitute a certain problem rather than to simply treat its symptoms).

“Reducing poverty is about more than just raising salaries or reducing the cost of living,” said Jack Anawak, an NTI vice president who co-chaired the meeting.

“The last few days have reinforced our belief that working on such things as health and well-being, education, early childhood development, economic and community development and food security all contribute to reducing poverty in Nunavut,” he said.

However, there are few concrete details about what specific policy changes might become part of the five-year plan.

On “progressive change” to the welfare system, Ell said roundtable participants discussed the GN’s income support and its shortcomings.

“Income support is supposed to be a last resort if you can’t find a way to earn income or some things are going on in your life at that particular moment where you can’t move forward,” Ell said.

Ell’s family services department, created through a merger of social services and some other functions, came into being this past April 1.

One of the responsibilities of the new family services department is income support, which has been moved out of the department of education.

Ell said this gives her department a chance to think about suggestions from roundtable participants that the government provide “support initiatives” to help people get off welfare.

“Those support initiatives need to be thought out by the department, so this is an opportune time, having become [Department of] Family Services on April 1, we could be looking at restructuring of programs to move forward,” Ell said.

A delegate who attended the three-day meeting afterwards said one possibility is that the GN might work with private business to look at proposals that might see income support clients entering on-the-job training programs.

But nothing concrete has been decided yet.

As for the potential cost of any new initiatives that might flow from the five-year anti-poverty plan, the GN is still studying that issue.

The time of the five-year plan means its implementation will be handled by the new government and legislative assembly that will emerge after this fall’s territorial election.

“Discussions are still taking place right now on those sorts of initiatives and what it might cost the government to move forward on the priority items that have been placed before us and it will take time to convince the new government to move forward,” Ell said.

To that end, Ell said people should lobby their MLAs to ensure the plan is carried out.

“They are the ones who will be voting on budgets and other things… to move forward on some of these initiatives,” Ell said.

And she pointed out that MLAs Ron Elliot and Jeannie Ugyuk participated in the poverty roundtable — “and that’s a very good thing,” she said.

Anawak said it’s crucial that the GN should make mental health a priority.

“I’m quite convinced that if we have more mental health people working in the communities, and more people getting mentally well, the the other things will start to fall into place. I’m very convinced of that,” Anawak said.

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