COVID relief led to record drop in child poverty in Nova Scotia, report says
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says bold action still needed
A new report says COVID-19 relief helped drive a record reduction in child and family poverty in Nova Scotia in 2020, but more still needs to be done.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its annual report card on child and family poverty Thursday. It says the rate decreased by 24.3 per cent from 2019 — the biggest single-year drop on record.
Without government benefits, the report says the child poverty rate would have increased to 41.4 per cent.
"What the report card shows … is government intervention can and does work," said Lesley Frank, who co-authored the report.
More than 31,000 children in Nova Scotia, or 18.4 per cent, were still living in low-income income families in 2020, the report says.
Nearly all the funding that decreased the child poverty rate in Nova Scotia in 2020 came from the federal government, the report says.
"What that also shows is how little the provincial government contributed to this unprecedented lowering of child poverty," Frank told CBC News.
Highest rate in Atlantic Canada
Nova Scotia has performed the second worst in Canada in reducing child poverty since 1989, the report says.
It says the province had the fourth-highest child poverty rate in the country and the highest in Atlantic Canada in 2020.
The report outlines 17 recommendations for how the Nova Scotia government can end child and family poverty, including raising the Nova Scotia Child Benefit and increasing eligibility.
"Poverty is a political choice in some cases and we need to recognize that solving it is also a political choice," said Sara Kirk, a professor of health promotion at Dalhousie University.
She says Nova Scotia is likely doing worse than other provinces in Canada because it doesn't have a consistent plan of addressing child poverty.
In her mandate letter, Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane was directed "to establish a five-year target for the reduction of childhood poverty in the province."
In a statement emailed to CBC, a spokesperson for the Department of Community Services called child poverty "deeply troubling."
While not addressing targets, it said the province has added $12.5 million in funding to the Nova Scotia Child Benefit for families with incomes below $34,000.
Kirk says child poverty is caused by a lack of resources, so it's clear the solution is providing more resources.
"We had an opportunity during COVID to test out what it would be like to give people a guaranteed income and I think that's what we're seeing," she said. "It works. It absolutely works."
Need for urgent action
It says rates were higher for First Nation and Black Nova Scotians, children in single-mother families and children living in families that rely on government support as their only source of income.
The rate of racialized children living in poverty in Nova Scotia in 2020 was nearly double the national rate, the report says.
"It isn't enough, I don't think, to just institute income transfers. We have to get at the root causes of why some people are systematically and systemically marginalized," Frank said.
Frank says action is still needed to help these thousands of children still living in poverty and intervene at a critical point in their lives.
"When people listen to the headline that we saw a historic reduction in child poverty in the year 2020, they also hear how much urgency remains to continue to act boldly and swiftly for children."