Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Child poverty trends up sharply in Guysborough County

Local advocate calls for ‘system-wide’ change

  • February 21 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH — A new report outlining a sharp rise in childhood poverty rates in Guysborough County after the first year of the pandemic is renewing calls for a substantial shift in public policy.

The research released this month from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ (CCPA) Nova Scotia office reports that the poverty rate for children under the age of 17, in both the Municipality of the District of Guysborough and St. Mary’s, grew from 18.9 per cent to 23.3 per cent in just 12 months (2021).

The data based on Canadian census and family and income surveys reflects a trend in Nova Scotia that could have been offset by more robust government support, the report says. “The pandemic benefits that effectively lowered the rate in 2020 were temporary, and only some extended into 2021, with the small one-off cost of living payments and no significant increases in income assistance or any other government benefits.”

Even so, it noted, “Federal and provincial government [support] in 2021 reduced child poverty by 50.5 per cent overall. Without these benefits, the child poverty rate in Nova Scotia... [already] the highest in Atlantic Canada and the fourth highest in Canada... would have been 41.4 per cent... A poverty rate of 20.5 per cent represents 35,330 children living in low-income families, or more than one in five children in Nova Scotia.”

Among the report’s recommendations are to implement a poverty elimination plan for Nova Scotia and “end child poverty by 2026”; improve income support “to lift families with children out of poverty”; “fundamentally transform” the child welfare and social assistance system; remove barriers and expand access to universal public services; establish conditions for “decent work and quality job creation”; protect “children’s right to housing and food”; address racism and all forms of discrimination “as root causes” of child poverty; “decolonize systems” and end poverty for First Nations children; and expand federal investment.

“The main takeaway,” it concludes, “[is] that government intervention can work to reduce poverty.”

While Nancy O’Regan, co-chair of the Guysborough County Housing Network, says there’s much to admire in the report, she worries that it may not go far enough.

“I like the recommendation to protect children’s right to housing and food,” she told The Journal in an interview last week. “The provision of food for children should not be considered a charity... The anecdotal information – where we’ve got families in this county that can’t afford formula or [mothers] who can’t eat well enough to breastfeed – is showing up in this report.”

Still, she wondered, “What does ‘transform the child welfare and social assistance system and remove barriers and expand access to universal public services’ mean? What’s reflected in this report is that fewer children of the group of people who had CERB [Canada Emergency Response Benefit] during the pandemic for example, were living in poverty. [But] if you look at the rates for social assistance that have been paid in this province, it’s historically deplorable and nobody is living well.”

O’Regan, who recently called on the provincial government to pilot a guaranteed basic income program for Nova Scotia in Guysborough County, said: “There’s a whole philosophy around the [point] that we don’t want to encourage people to be dependent, even though that has never been proven to be true.”

She added: “I don’t know if the political will is there to do something long term... But a substantial shift in how we think about [poverty]... is the kind of thing that should be sustainable system wide.”