N.S. child poverty rates dropped sharply in 2020, ‘almost entirely’ due to pandemic relief

Click to play video: 'New report shows newcomers hardest hit by child poverty in New Brunswick'
New report shows newcomers hardest hit by child poverty in New Brunswick
WATCH: A new report from Saint John's Human Development council shows that New Brunswick's newcomer population is the hardest hit by child poverty. Suzanne Lapointe has more. – Feb 14, 2023

A new report indicates child poverty rates in Nova Scotia declined by 24.3 per cent in 2020, largely due to temporary COVID-19 relief programs that have since ended.

The report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, released Thursday, said 2020 saw the most significant single-year reduction in child poverty on record.

But it said the reduction was “almost entirely due to federal pandemic relief support and top-ups” — and warned the issue of child poverty will get worse without more permanent measures.

“We should celebrate the reduction in child poverty in 2020. However, by all accounts, poverty is worse today,” said the report.

“The pandemic benefits that made the difference were temporary. In addition, since 2021, people have had to deal with the steep increase in prices for essentials, including housing, food, and heating.”

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According to the report, there were 31,370 children living in low-income families in Nova Scotia in 2020, representing 18.4 per cent, or more than one in six children.

2020 was the first year since 2000 that the child poverty rate in Nova Scotia dropped below 24 per cent.

The report noted that just over 569,000 Nova Scotians — more than two-thirds of those over the age of 15 — received COVID-19-related assistance that year, amounting to more than $2 billion.

Just 0.3 per cent of the support came from the provincial government, and 99 per cent came from the federal government.

The report, authored by Lesley Frank and Christine Saulnier, estimated that without these temporary pandemic benefits, an additional 14,500 children in Nova Scotia would be living in poverty, which would have raised the child poverty rate to 27 per cent for the year.

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‘Bold move’ needed

Frank, a CCPA researcher and a Tier II Canada research chair in food, health and social justice at Acadia University, said in a release that small, incremental changes from government over the years “did little or nothing to change our child poverty rate.”

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“This report card shows that poverty can be reduced, and it can be done swiftly. Pandemic benefits — a bold action — lifted 14,500 children out of poverty in a single year,” Frank said.

“Sadly, the bold move was only temporary. Nova Scotia continues to perform poorly at reducing poverty. Generations of kids have paid the price of our government’s slow, incremental action.”

Despite the decrease in child poverty in 2020, Nova Scotia had the fourth-highest child poverty rate in the country that year, and the highest rate in Atlantic Canada.

The report noted that poverty rates for racialized, immigrant and Indigenous children were “much higher” — the poverty rate for racialized children was 29.5 per cent, almost double the rate for non-racialized children.

The poverty rate for Indigenous children living on-reserve was 43.5 per cent, compared to 16.5 per cent of non-Indigenous children, while the rate for Indigenous children living off-reserve was 22.4 per cent.

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As well, the poverty rate for immigrant children was 32.6 per cent, more than double that of non-immigrant children.

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“This rate is significantly higher than the national average (18.8%), meaning they are more likely to live in poverty if they immigrate to Nova Scotia,” the report said.

There was also a gendered component, as households with single mothers were more likely to be low-income than households with single fathers or two parents.

In terms of Statistics Canada’s census divisions, the Digby, Annapolis and Cape Breton regions had the highest rates of child poverty — 27.3 per cent, 25.7 per cent, and 24.8 per cent, respectively — while the lowest rates were in Antigonish (15.2 per cent) and Halifax (15.9 per cent.)

‘Kids can’t wait’

The report made a number of recommendations to the provincial government for reducing child poverty — and poverty in general.

“Ending child poverty will require tackling all forms of poverty because children live in families who live in poverty,” it said.

The recommendations include:

  •  Developing a robust and comprehensive poverty elimination program;
  • “Substantially” increasing income assistance and child benefit programs;
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $20 and amending the Labour Standards Code to better protect workers;
  • Improving social programs and infrastructure like the child-care system, education, health care, and access to food;
  • Addressing the province’s ongoing housing crisis;
  • Developing proactive strategies with communities that have exceptionally high poverty rates;
  • Committing to reconciliation and supporting Indigenous self-determination.

The report concluded by saying investments in ending child poverty are “the best investments we can make as a society.”

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“We reap the benefits for generations because breaking the cycle of poverty early supports more people to reach their full potential and contributes to making Nova Scotia a place where everyone can thrive and not just survive,” it said.

“It is time our government takes responsibility for the poverty in our province. Kids can’t wait.”

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