HALIFAX, NS –Twenty-one years ago (in 1989), the government of Canada promised to end child poverty by the year 2000. In 2000, not only had they not kept the promise - the child poverty rate was even higher. Today, ten years after the goal date, the broken promise remains.
This year’s annual report published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives –Nova Scotia and Campaign 2000 reports that 14,000 Nova Scotia children were living in poverty in 2008. Based on the most recent available data (for 2008), the report card shows that there has been some progress made, however.
The good news is that the Nova Scotia child poverty rate decreased from the 1989 rate of 11.9 percent to 7.9 percent in 2008. And, there has been a steady downward trend in child poverty rates since 2003. But author and CCPA-NS Research Associate, Lesley Frank is only cautiously optimist about the trends and points out that, “This downward trend came about after the child poverty rate was allowed to rise in the mid-90s to a shockingly embarrassing rate for a high income country such as Canada – progress is welcome, but it does not mean the problem is solved”. And, this data does not capture what has happened since the economic downturn.
The report card shows that key policy measures aimed at low-income families through the taxation system has contributed to lowering child poverty rates. Frank underscore the importance of strengthening effective measures such as the Canadian and provincial Child Tax Credits to ensure that the goal of ending child poverty will be met for the 14,000 children in Nova Scotia that remain in the grips of deep poverty.
While average child poverty rates for the whole population have dropped to single digits in Nova Scotia, certain types of families continue to experience much higher rates of child poverty compared to other family types. The most vulnerable children are those living in families that rely on welfare income, which remain inadequate even for meeting basic needs. For example, income assistance provided to a lone parent family with one child leaves them with (on average) $4,060 per year less than even the ‘poverty line’. A two-parent family with two children receives $8,675 less. This poverty gap is also an indication of how deep poverty rates are in this province.
It should deeply trouble us that the child poverty rate is consistently higher for families with children under six (15.6% compared to 8.4% of all children).
There are other troubling trends. We have a growing class of working poor in our province. Data since 1996 shows an upward trend whereby poor children in Nova Scotia increasingly live in families where there is at least one full time/full year wage earner. In 2008, just under half of all poor children in the province (49.2 percent) lived in working families. It is clear that access to waged employment in and of itself is not solving the issue of child poverty. Indeed, it is clear that one size fits all initiatives won’t meet the needs of a diverse group of people who are more vulnerable to living in poverty including women, African Nova Scotians, people with disabilities, immigrants, Aboriginal people and others who face serious barriers that need to be addressed.
Another troubling trend is the growing wage inequality in Nova Scotia between the lowest earners and the highest earners. The highest 20 percent of earners in the province have steadily increased their earned income share since 2005. In 2008 they accounted for 43.4 percent of all income earned, while the poorest 20 percent of earners only accounted for 5.9 percent.
Stella Lord from the Community Coalition to End Poverty in Nova Scotia points out, “Poor children live in poor families and poor families only comprise a portion of ALL people living in poverty in Nova Scotia. Poverty is unjust for anyone who experiences it daily.” In 2008 there were 75,000 people living below the After Tax Low Income Cut Off or 8.3 percent of the population. This means that one in twelve people in Nova Scotia - including children, people with disabilities, seniors, parents, and single people - lived in circumstances that compromised their access to basic needs such as adequate food, clothing, and housing.
Debbie Reimer, Executive Director of the Kids Action Program in Annapolis Valley-Hants and Apple Tree Landing Children’s Centre stresses that, “the rates of poverty reflected in this card are based on 2008 figures. The families participating in our programs today are experiencing even greater challenges, which we see reflected in emergency food needs and the inability to afford basic transportation on an on-going basis.”
The Nova Scotia government does have a Poverty Reduction Strategy, but it needs to define a set of targets and meaningful measures of progress. It is well past time that the federal government does its part too. As well as being a moral and human rights based response to the poverty of the most vulnerable amongst us, eradicating child poverty is also an investment in the future of our province. Action on child poverty, achieved through action on family poverty, will have a lasting impact on all Nova Scotians.
The Nova Scotia Child Poverty Report Card 2010 (1989–2008) can be downloaded for free at www.policyalternatives.ca
For media inquiries, please contact: Lesley Frank, CCPA-NS, Research Associate, at 902-582-2483 or 902-698-3653 or Stella Lord, Community Coalition to End Poverty in Nova Scotia at 477-0094.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is national, independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social and economic justice.
Campaign 2000 is a national a non-partisan, cross-Canada coalition of over 120 national, provincial and community organizations that are committed to working together to end child and family poverty in Canada. To access other provincial report cards and the national report card, see www.campaign2000.ca