HALIFAX: A report released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives finds that Canada and Nova Scotia have lost ground in efforts to reduce child poverty. "Promises to Keep: The Nova Scotia Child Poverty Report Card 2003" finds that child poverty today is worse than it was in 1989 when Canadian parliamentarians determined that child poverty should end by the year 2000. According to the report, in 1989 16% of Nova Scotian children lived in poverty. More than a decade later almost 19.2% children in Nova Scotia live in poverty. Disturbingly, the increase in child poverty for Nova Scotia is greater than the average increase across provinces.
Pauline Raven, an author of Nova Scotia child poverty report cards since 1999 says: "The good news is child poverty rates began to drop in 1996." However, Raven cautions, "While the child poverty rate is not declining dramatically in Canada, the rate of decline in Nova Scotia is even slower - only three percentage points during a six year period. Of particular concern" notes Raven "is that preliminary data show that, in contrast to other provinces, the rate of child poverty in Nova Scotia actually increased in 2000 and 2001." This year's report shows that unless rates of decline are accelerated the real goal of eliminating child poverty altogether won't be realized until many additional decades pass.
Poverty continues to keep a dangerous grip on 1.07 million Canadian children. In Nova Scotia 38,000 children live in families where incomes are sufficiently low to create severe difficulties. Raven reports, for the year 2001 (the most recent year for which we have statistics): "It is common for gaps between family income and the base low income cutoff to be in the range of $500 to $700 per month." The annual cost of closing this gap in Nova Scotia is just under $147 million, an amount equivalent to 7% of our annual health expenditures or the tax cut initiated for 2004.
This year's report underscores the need for an earnest and focused inquiry regarding the many factors that influence child poverty rates. Raven is recommending that, "governments develop a coherent plan, with clear benchmarks, to fast track the end of child poverty." According to Raven: "The Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly must play a strong leadership role to ensure our children are not left behind as children in other provinces move forward."
During the 1989 - 2001 period, Nova Scotia lost rank relative to other provinces. In 1989 Nova Scotia was among the five provinces with the least child poverty; in 2001 we were third worst. British Columbia was the only province to experience a greater increase in child poverty between 1989 and 2001 than Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia's current rate of decline is approximately half the rate of the Canadian average.