Child poverty numbers 'shamefully high' in Nova Scotia

Some 22.5 per cent of children in Nova Scotia live in relative poverty, according to the 2016 Child and Family Poverty Report Card released Thursday. Families say paying for a car to get to work is one of the biggest problems.

In Eskasoni, 75% of children live in poverty, finds Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Lone-parent families lived on the least money of all Nova Scotian families, the study found. (Rafal Olechowski/Shutterstock)

Some 22.5 per cent of children in Nova Scotia live in relative poverty, according to the 2016 Child and Family Poverty Report Card released Thursday, and families say paying for a car to get to work is one of the biggest problems. 

The study for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Nova Scotia, defines relative poverty as families living on half of the midway point of all family incomes.

Lesley Frank, the report's author and a sociology professor at Acadia University, said the children highlighted in the report live in families with a median income of $21,388 (half earn less, half earn more). The overall Nova Scotia median is $70,101.

The study found Indigenous people live in the greatest poverty. The Eskasoni First Nation in eastern Cape Breton had a child poverty rate of 75.6 per cent.

'Shamefully high'

Christine Saulnier, the centre's director in Nova Scotia, said the poverty numbers are "shamefully high" and people need jobs that pay decent wages. 

"People are struggling to find full-time work, they're struggling with seasonal employment and our social safety net. Employment insurance is not what it used to be," she said.

Saulnier said fewer people are eligible for employment insurance benefits and those who are eligible struggle on the money that brings in.

The numbers in the report are from 2014. The Halifax-area had the lowest rate of relative poverty, while Cape Breton had the highest. Glace Bay, New Waterford, North Sydney and Sydney Mines were all over 30 per cent. On the opposite end of the province, Yarmouth had a 41 per cent rate of relative child poverty. 

Elizabeth Marshall lives in Eskasoni.

"I'm not shocked. I see the unemployment here, I see the poverty, I see the people coming to ask for help. I don't like to talk about these things because it's painful to see people suffering," she said. 

She said it comes from a deeper social and financial imbalance in Nova Scotia. Many people in Eskasoni, including Marshall, are surviving on welfare. 

Mi'kmaq researchers studying poverty

"You see the malnutrition. You see children in poor health," she said. "For my culture, where we always had an overabundance of food and where we share an abundance of food, it's very strange that we have to be so poor."

Even simple things like taking your kids to a movie is out of the question, she said, with an expensive taxi ride and tickets beyond the reach of many. Hockey is also ruled out early, as the sport is expensive.

Chief Leroy Denny of the Eskasoni First Nation wasn't available for an interview, but he did release a statement.

"We will be looking at the situations in our own communities, using our own Mi'kmaq science to learn as much as we can from our own people. The study results that were announced today is something that we will have to look at, while continuing to proceed with our own Mi'kmaq-driven research."

Costly cars and bad public transportation 

The price of gas and vehicle maintenance, as well as poor public transportation, are among the big issues facing parents in rural Nova Scotia.

"We see parents struggle with transportation," said Lisanne Turner, a support worker at the Tri-County Women's Centre in Yarmouth. "Especially in how that relates to getting to employment and having to secure employment that provides enough income for a family."

Lone-parent families have the least money, with 24,230 Nova Scotia children in that situation living in poverty.

"We're just not making the progress we need to be making," said Saulnier. "Our poverty is quite deep and that means those who are living in poverty are living well below the poverty line."

Government says some incomes rising

But Nova Scotia Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said the report's numbers are out of date and misleading.

"We know income levels for nearly half a million families across Canada have risen over the last two years, specifically in the last six months," said Bernard.

Bernard said the child tax credit brought in by the federal government earlier this year is responsible for shifting family incomes for the better.

Last week, Food Banks Canada released a report stating food bank use was up 20 per cent in Nova Scotia over the last year.

That report stated 23,840 people used food banks in March 2016. 

With files from Gary Mansfield