Head of pediatrics at IWK Health Centre calls for poverty reduction plan
Dr. Andrew Lynk says social determinants affect health and long-term outcomes
If Nova Scotia is to put a dent in its child poverty rates, there needs to be an action plan with measurable targets, the head of pediatrics at the IWK Health Centre told members of the legislature Tuesday.
During an appearance before the legislature's standing committee on health, Dr. Andrew Lynk was asked about efforts to get young people more physically active and ways to tie that into the school system.
While the Halifax doctor said that's important and efforts continue on that front, he noted about half of people's health is connected to social determinants, such as family income, education and level of housing and food security.
"I would just remind us all that we still have a lot of work to do in Nova Scotia to address family and child poverty here," he said.
"About one in four children and families live still in relative poverty, depending on which measure that you use."
A need for accountability
Lynk said those figures place the province at or near the bottom of the country.
While things improved slightly several years ago following the introduction of the federal child benefit and some provincial eligibility changes, more needs to be done to reduce child poverty, he said.
In an interview, Lynk said what's missing here compared to other provinces, such as Quebec, Manitoba, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador, is a plan that includes measurable goals and accountability measures for both the short and long term.
"We've never had a sort of action plan and/or targets to reach," he told CBC News. "So if you don't have that clarity of purpose, like, who do you hold accountable for it?"
The most recent provincial budget included a $100-per-month increase in income assistance rates for every adult in a household. It was a historic increase, but poverty advocates have said it still isn't enough to make the level of change required.
The Progressive Conservatives tabled a bill during the spring sitting that would have seen five-year targets set for child poverty reduction and annual reporting requirements, but the bill did not receive the necessary government support to pass.
The payoffs of poverty reduction programs
Lynk said accountability measures and goals are common in many fields, including medicine. It's the kind of approach he'd like to see the province take when it comes to child poverty.
While there may be an upfront cost to such efforts, Lynk said there is ample academic evidence to show that for each dollar spent on anti-poverty reduction programs, there's a corresponding savings of $7 on more intensive health-care costs and justice costs.
"Those are the payoffs," he said. "But it's measured in 20 years from now, 25 years from now and, of course, election cycles are four years, which I appreciate."
Medically, Lynk said the situation can manifest itself in many ways.
Setting kids up for success
There is family stress that comes if parents are worried about job loss or how to pay bills or if their child is unable to participate in activities.
There's also an issue in terms of access to services.
When families face long waits to get certain services for their children, those with financial means can access private options in a more timely way. Families dealing with poverty usually cannot, he said.
All of that, said Lynk, has been shown to have an effect on long-term health outcomes.
"We're not setting up kids for success if there's not enough money in the house for both the extracurricular and the food and just taking down the worry and the stress levels," he said.