Budgets are not simply financial documents. They are clear statements of values and priorities. Some people and communities benefit, while others do not. Particular outcomes for society are pursued aggressively, while some are ignored. With this in mind, we eagerly await the Government of Manitoba’s 2014 “Statement of Values and Priorities” to be delivered on March 6th at the Legislature.
As a network led by its members, CCEDNet – Manitoba works with over 100 community-based organizations to identify what government could do to best support their work, or even to reduce the need for our work at all. The members have identified a number of impactful ideas, which we have worked with them to advance.
In a cash economy like ours, we need money to pay rent, buy food, pay for child care and school fees, access transportation, and acquire other basic necessities. As Canadians, we have created a social safety net to make sure that everyone has at least a basic amount of money to meet some of these needs. In that way, we are committed to taking care of each other, particularly those with the least. But what people receive is very little, and is woefully inadequate when measured against the cost of living, particularly with rising rental rates. This is why 150 organizations agreed that the provincial government needed to raise the rental allowance to at least 75% of median market rents.
Of course, people want more than subsistence living, and truly climbing out of poverty requires good employment. So, naturally, there are a lot of Manitobans who want to work, but a combination of historical systemic exclusion and not having all the skills and experiences business are looking for means they don’t get hired and remain in poverty. For these folks, we need to create pathways out of poverty with solutions that work – training opportunities and good jobs that provide both the personal and technical skill development that people need to get and keep a job.
Social enterprises provide these opportunities. As businesses, they operate in the market selling goods and services like any other business. But as a nonprofit, their entire reason for existing is to create a social impact – often providing jobs for people with multiple barriers to employment.
"People living in poverty who are struggling to climb out are often isolated, have poor health that is costly to our health care system, and are over-represented in our expensive justice system."
This works, and works very well. We have many social enterprises in Manitoba already doing this, creating hundreds of jobs for folks that would otherwise be unemployed. The problem is that there are thousands more who want to work, which is why we need to create more social enterprises while growing and strengthening existing ones.
To do this, we need to make sure that we have a good ‘ecosystem’ of support in Manitoba. We need to make sure that we build the skills and knowledge of those creating and managing social enterprises. We need to make sure that they are gaining access to markets in order to maintain and grow their sales and contracts. We need to make sure that the policy environment is not creating barriers to their operations, but is in fact enabling them to achieve the mission of training and jobs. We need to make sure that the right money is available at the right time for social enterprises, whether that is development or training funds or appropriate financing mechanisms. And we need to make sure that as a sector we have the evidence to demonstrate the value of this effective model, and have the capacity to build the relationships within the sector.
"We need to create pathways out of poverty with solutions that work - training opportunities and good jobs that provide both the personal and technical skill development that people need to get and keep a job."
The province has supported social enterprises in many different ways, but it is time to take this to a new level with a more deliberate, strategic, and comprehensive approach that is designed together with the social enterprise sector. We need a Manitoba Social Enterprise Strategy.
This makes good policy sense, and creates a significant benefit in our communities. People living in poverty and struggling to climb out are often isolated, have poor health that is costly to our health care system, and are over-represented in our expensive justice system. The right kind of training and good job creates a pathway out of this. It works, it changes lives, it reduces the financial strain on our health, social service, and justice systems, and is therefore the right thing to do – with a sense of urgency.
Our members will look to Budget 2014, knowing that the choices made in it will impact the lives of all Manitobans to some degree, most significantly those with the least. Investment in a social enterprise strategy will signal that this budget prioritizes and places value in reducing poverty by creating pathways out of poverty for Manitobans.