The Star Halifax with Christine Saulnier 27 February 2019
Nova Scotia is the only Canadian province where children are more impoverished now than they were two years ago, according to Statistics Canada.
Those numbers, released this week, show the percentage of Canadian children living in poverty has declined between 2015 and 2017 almost across the board. But in Nova Scotia, the child poverty rate rose during that time frame, jumping from 15.7 per cent to 17.1 per cent — the highest rate in the country.
“Absolutely, it’s disappointing,” Lynn Hartwell, deputy minister of Nova Scotia Community Services, said in an interview. “Any amount of poverty, it’s not OK. It’s something we want to fix.”
The latest Canadian Income Survey, designed to provide a snapshot of incomes across the nation, estimates that 27,000 children in Nova Scotia lived in poverty in 2017. That’s up from 25,000 in 2015.
The second highest rate of child poverty in 2017 was in New Brunswick at 13.1 per cent, down 2 per cent from 2015. Alberta, meanwhile, managed to cut its child poverty rate in half between 2015 and 2017 — from 10 per cent to 5 per cent.
For all of Canada, the child poverty rate dipped from 13.3 per cent to 9 per cent.
Statistics Canada attributed the near-universal decline in poverty and child poverty rates to “a combination of factors, including higher wages and salaries among nonsenior families … and an increase in child benefits.”
It also said Nova Scotia had the lowest median after-tax household income in 2017 at $50,200.
Hartwell said Nova Scotia is still working to develop its poverty reduction strategy and has groups looking at different aspects, such as transportation and food security.
She said the government has requested more information from Statistics Canada and will use it to try to figure out the cause of the increase.
“Trying to figure that out is a bit of a puzzle,” she said.
“We’ll keep moving forward on the poverty reduction movement, taking this information and understanding it and forming our next steps.”
While the numbers may look bleak, Christine Saulnier, the Nova Scotia director for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA-NS), said they may not be quite as bad as suggested.
Statistics Canada got its numbers from interviews with respondents and administrative files. She said CCPA-NS, meanwhile, compiles a poverty report card with numbers coming directly from tax returns. She said their numbers, which will be released in the fall, would be more accurate.
She estimated that poverty rates in Nova Scotia were likely about the same in 2015 and 2017.
“Having said that, there are still things that we can say about what this data is showing as a trend,” said Saulnier.
In CCPA-NS’s latest poverty report card, Nova Scotia had the highest child poverty rates in Atlantic Canada — and the third highest in all Canadian provinces — in 2015.
What’s keeping Nova Scotians in poverty, she said, is a number of factors including a low hourly wage and income assistance programs not keeping up with inflation. Saulnier said the government needs to do more, including raising income assistance enough to lift people over the poverty line.
“How is it that a program of last resort for people keeps them so deprived materially?” she said.
“As Nova Scotians, we really need to question that policy. This is poverty that is created by policy decisions.”
She added that living in poverty is especially damaging for children, saying that the longer that children live in poverty, the more difficult it becomes for them to get out.
“Poverty … takes a toll on everyone, but when it’s children, its toll is quite long lasting,” she said.
“It affects their ability to perform well at school, it affects everything about their child development. And when that’s done at an early age, it has long-term implications.”