Nova Scotia is failing people living in poverty, according to a new report from Canada’s food banks.
The report provides a letter grade on 13 poverty indicators for each Canadian province, in addition to an overall letter grade.
Nova Scotia received the lowest possible overall grade, F, and was the only province to score that low.
The results don’t surprise Cathy Evans, 69, a resident of the province’s largest public housing complex, in Halifax, where she has lived for almost 30 years.
“It’s hard to live here. It’s really hard trying to get enough food to eat and everything,” he said.
Evans lives near a food bank, yet he doesn’t use it because he believes others need it more. Instead, he said he has been cutting back on his consumption, eating less family dinners and eating less fresh fruit and meat.
“It’s really a result of a lack of action, a stalemate around any kind of policy progress to address poverty and food insecurity,” said Kirstin Beardsley, executive director of Food Banks Canada.
“When you have a failing grade, you can take some measurable action and see that grade go up. So my message [to Nova Scotia] “There would be a lot of room for improvement.”
The report notes that Nova Scotia last drafted a poverty reduction strategy in 2009 and has not updated it since.
Beardsley said the report is a call to action for federal, provincial and territorial governments to step up and meet the needs of their most vulnerable citizens.
Poverty rates fell across Canada between the last two census years. Between 2015 and 2020, the national poverty rate fell by 6.4 per cent, while the rate in Nova Scotia fell by 7.8 per cent. But Beardsley said that doesn’t give an accurate picture of what’s happening now.
“We need to act now”
He said visits to food banks have “skyrocketed” recently, which is a canary in the coal mine.
“We see people at the door of a food bank before they show up in federal statistics,” Beardsley said.
“We need to act now so people don’t have to go to a food bank to make ends meet.”
Food Banks Canada, which is a national non-profit organization affiliated with Feed Nova Scotia, based its report on data collected from a national survey, along with Statistics Canada data on poverty rates.
More than half of Nova Scotians feel worse than they did last year and almost a quarter are food insecure, according to the report.
The report’s authors charge that the Nova Scotia government is making “unclear and insufficient” efforts to help homeless people and increase the supply of affordable housing.
This year’s provincial budget, they said, falls short and there are no increases in income assistance rates.
The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services declined an interview with CBC for this article and did not provide a reason. There are currently two cabinet ministers working in that portfolio.
Instead, a spokesperson emailed a statement that said, in part, that the cost of living is a challenge for many and that the province has more to do.
“Information from organizations like Food Banks Canada is critical to improving our understanding of the challenges people face,” said Christina Deveau.
He listed a suite of programs the government has funded over the past two years for low-income Nova Scotians, including additional rent supplements, grants for seniors and home heating assistance.
The authors of the Food Banks Canada report also noted that Nova Scotia has made some recent progress, including increasing the minimum wage, expanding the rental cap and increasing the Nova Scotia child benefit.
But overall, the province “failed to take substantial action this year to meaningfully address poverty,” according to the report.
Food Banks Canada concluded with seven policy recommendations for the province:
- Introduce a new poverty reduction strategy, focusing in particular on poverty among older people.
- Improve community health care for older people.
- Eliminate co-payments from provincial pharmaceutical care programs.
- Introduce fiscal indexation, indexing income brackets to inflation.
- Increase and modify the poverty reduction strategy.
- Reduce Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Tax Credit “recoveries.”
- Expand broadband infrastructure.