Nova Scotia Report Card on Child and Family Poverty, 2016


Child and family poverty is a social problem rooted in structures of inequality both economic and political. It is primarily measured by examining economic factors related to family income, either by comparing the incomes of Canadians, or in comparing incomes to the cost of necessities for daily living. Poverty is not just a measure of income however; it is social condition that is manifested in a multitude of ways in daily family life and is experienced by parents and children. Parents struggle to make school lunches, pay for school supplies and fees throughout the year, support their children in activities and sports, and to buy winter coats and boots. It is difficult for many to keep vehicles in working order, afford the minimum delivery of home heating oil, or pay childcare fees (even with subsides). After paying housing costs, there is little money left over for food. The 2016 Hunger Counts Report revealed an alarming increase in the number of food banks users in Nova Scotia. In fact, Nova Scotia experienced the highest increase in numbers of people served from 2015–16 (20.9% increase) —30.4% of users being children.1 Habitual struggles lead to social exclusion, high levels of stress, and negative health outcomes for both parents and children. The cost of poverty for society is significant. Income, housing, and food security are essential for social wellbeing and social and economic prosperity. How we address (or do not address) these needs through social welfare programs and economic and labour policies are political decisions entrenched with beliefs about what is best for the economy and thus best for society. This means that public policy itself can be a root cause of poverty.

It has been 27 years since the resolution to end child poverty by the year 2000 was passed unanimously in the Canadian House of Commons. Child poverty rates in Nova Scotia and across Canada have fluctuated over the years since this resolution, but the goal was never achieved. Child poverty statistics report on the number and percentage of children that live in families with income below a particular income threshold. Thus child poverty does not exist outside of family poverty. Child poverty rates mirror Canada’s weakening commitment to social welfare more broadly—typified by a reduction in social expenditures in the 1970s, a steady erosion of social programs in the 1980s, and a persistent dismantling of Canada’s social welfare system from the 1990s onward. They also mirror growing inequality in family income and wealth. The child poverty rate today is in fact higher than it was in 1989, the year this resolution was passed. There has been a promise of Federal leadership on this issue through the new Ministry of Families, Children, and Social Development. There have also been changes made to federal transfer payments to families aimed at reducing child poverty. Similar cash transfers have been effective in lowering child poverty in the past; however, it will be a couple of years before data are available to measure the adequacy of the most recent changes. Given the depth of poverty faced by so many families, much more federal and provincial investment in families and children will be necessary to prevent child and family poverty and reverse the damage of steady chipping away of collective responsible for their well-being.

Publication date: 
Nov 2016
Lesley Frank
Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives
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