N.S. child poverty dropped in 2020 due to pandemic-related financial support: report

HALIFAX — A report has found that child poverty numbers in Nova Scotia dropped dramatically in 2020 — an improvement that researchers say was driven by pandemic financial assistance.

The report, released Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives based on Statistics Canada data, found that in 2020 Nova Scotia had a child poverty rate of 18.4 per cent, down from 24.3 per cent a year earlier.

Christine Saulnier, the Nova Scotia director of the think tank, said that the one-year drop in the number of children living below the poverty line in the province is “historic” and is directly tied to government financial support.

“It really tells us that significant investment makes a huge difference, and it can be done in a short time period,” Saulnier said in an interview.

The report found that 14,500 Nova Scotian children would have been under the poverty line in 2020 if their families had not received pandemic government benefits, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and Canada Recovery Benefit. More than 569,000 Nova Scotians received some form of pandemic financial relief that year.

“Not only did the temporary pandemic benefits stop people from falling into poverty, it actually lifted almost 15,000 more children in Nova Scotia out of poverty," Saulnier said. "We’ve never seen our rates go down so much.”

Of the more than $2 billion that Nova Scotians received in pandemic government assistance in 2020, 99 per cent came from Ottawa.

While Nova Scotia's child poverty rate dropped significantly between 2019 and 2020, the rate remains significantly higher than the national average of 13.5 per cent of children below the poverty line. Nova Scotia had the highest child poverty rate among the Atlantic provinces and the fourth highest rate Canada-wide, the report said.

As well, poverty rates in Nova Scotia were almost twice as high for racialized children, at 29.5 per cent, compared to a 15.8 per cent poverty rate for white children.

Child poverty rates are highest among immigrant children in Nova Scotia at 32.6 per cent, compared to 15.9 per cent of children who are not immigrants. This rate is significantly higher than the national average for immigrant children, which is 18.8 per cent.

Saulnier said the takeaway for the provincial and federal governments should be that significant financial support has the power to lift families and children out of poverty.

Child poverty "decreased a great deal in 2020, but 31,000 children were still living in poverty and likely there are more (children in poverty) today than in 2020,” she said, adding that “it's clear that more people are struggling to make ends meet right now than there have been for a very long time” in Nova Scotia.

Feed Nova Scotia, which oversees food banks across the province, has said that in 2022 more than people ever relied on their food support services.

Saulnier said Nova Scotia should urgently raise its income support to keep up with inflation. She said the province’s recent support, including the $100 monthly increase to the household rate for income assistance, is not enough.

“Because of inflation, that amount is immediately eaten up. The small changes don’t make enough of a difference, and it means children are languishing in poverty,” she said.

Christina Deveau, a spokesperson for the provincial Department of Community Services, said in an email that “the fact that there are children in Nova Scotia living in poverty is deeply troubling,” and listed recent investments in the Nova Scotia Child Benefit and one-time payments of $250 for people on income assistance and of $1,000 for full-time foster families, among others.

“We will continue to collaborate with partners across government, in the private sector, and in communities, to help ensure that all Nova Scotians have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families,” Deveau said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2023.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press