Poverty

One in five children in Nova Scotia live in poverty: report

2015 child poverty rate higher than in 1989

35,870 children in Nova Scotia were living in poverty in 2015, according to the report.   Celie Deagle

More than 20 per cent of children in Nova Scotia lived in poverty in 2015, according to a report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on Tuesday.

The 2017 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia defines relative poverty as families living on half of the national median income, or less. The median family income in Canada in 2015 was $80,940, according to Statistics Canada. In Nova Scotia, it was $73,900.

“In terms of there being very little change, our governments need to do more,” said Christine Saulnier, a co-author of the study and the director of the Centre for Policy Alternative’s Nova Scotia office.

“There’s really way too many holes and, obviously, we have thousands of families who are falling through them.”

More than just income

Saulnier said the measurement of poverty isn’t just income-based. Those living below the poverty line also rely on government services and programs for things like job-training, education and transportation.

Doreen Grandy, assistant child and family services director at the Salvation Army on Gottingen Street in Halifax, said she serves more than 400 families at the food bank each month. 

Three years ago only 320 to 350 families per month visited the food bank.

“Last Friday alone we had 90 families in just three hours in the morning,” she said. Grandy said this indicates a substantial increase in the number of Halifax families that rely on supports like the Salvation Army.

Grandy’s observations reflect numbers in the 2016 HungerCounts report. The report found that Nova Scotia had the second highest increase in food bank users from 2015 to 2016 — at 20.9 per cent.  It was also determined that 30.4 per cent of 2016’s food bank visitors were children.

The report card shows that without governmental support on both the provincial and federal level, child poverty rates in Nova Scotia would be 32 per cent higher, said Saulnier.

Sue LaPierre, director of community impact at United Way Halifax, said she wasn’t surprised at the report’s figures. She called poverty “a complex issue.”

“There are systemic changes that need to be addressed in order for long-term success,” she said. “We need to pay attention to people who have lived experience and make sure that they have a voice at the table to make and influence decisions.”

The report uses numbers from 2015, which Saulnier said are the most recent statistics they have. Along with specific data about the province, it found Nova Scotia’s child poverty rates were the highest in Atlantic Canada and the third highest in the country. Between 1989 and 2015, poverty rates only decreased in four provinces: Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Saskatoon and Alberta. In 2015, the poverty rate in Nova Scotia was higher than in 1989, when it was at 18.1 per cent.

Minority child poverty rates ‘distressingly high’

Within the province, rates of child poverty fluctuate considerably. Fall River, located within the Halifax Regional Municipality, has the lowest rate at 3.9 per cent. The community with the highest rate is Eskasoni, located in Cape Breton, where 72.7 per cent of children are living in poverty.

According to the report, the mandatory long form census, reintroduced in 2016, made it easier for the centre to track poverty rates for communities with visible minority. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says that over one-third of minority children are in poverty; 40 per cent of immigrant children and 25 per cent of Indigenous children.

“We need to be doing work that ensures that we are considering the differential impact on kids who are growing up in families that are facing additional barriers,” Saulnier said. “I’m talking specifically about racism, the legacy of slavery and colonialism in our province and in our country. We need to get at those root causes; this is what the data is telling us.”

In September, the Nova Scotia Finance and Treasury board allocated $2 million to “create and begin to implement a plan to address poverty” in the province’s budget for 2017-18.

Saulnier hopes that policy makers in Nova Scotia and across Canada recognize the need for more substantial support.

“If we are not intentionally and explicitly considering the communities that are more disadvantaged and more vulnerable to living in poverty, then we will miss the mark,” she said.