Nova Scotians on income assistance are well below the poverty line, and they’re further behind after the latest provincial budget.

That’s what human rights lawyer Vince Calderhead told the legislature’s Law Amendments Committee on Monday.

As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, the Houston government opted not to raise income assistance rates in its 2023-2024 budget.

“With no increase this year in income assistance rates contained in the budget, we’re dropping further and further below the poverty line,” Calderhead said.

“By choosing to not increase income assistance by a single penny, the province is choosing to increase food insecurity, choosing to increase the inadequacy of families’ ability to put food on the table. Under international human rights law, when you make families worse off, that’s a clear human rights violation.”

By the numbers

Calderhead provided the committee with a briefing note containing updated figures, based on all provincial and federal benefits for people on income assistance. He compared their incomes to Statistics Canada’s poverty line for Halifax as of January, adjusted for inflation using the consumer price index to March 2023.

That poverty line, for a single person, is $27,631 annually. People living below 75% of that amount are in “deep income poverty,” according to Statistics Canada. Every type of income assistance recipient in Nova Scotia falls under that category.

A single adult without disabilities on social assistance can expect to receive $776 monthly in fiscal 2023-2024, or $9,312 annually. That’s 33.7% of the poverty line, down from 35.2% last year. When inflation is factored in, that person’s income is down 3.7%.

The provincial share of that single person’s monthly income is $748.92.

“If you ask most people on the street, how much they would receive from province by way of total income support, they really wouldn’t have a clue,” Calderhead said.

“When you tell them it’s less than $750 … Most people would be completely shocked at the idea that they not only have to rent, typically rent, housing, in the middle of a housing crisis and affordability crisis, not to mention then going on to pay their other expenses, importantly food.”

A single adult boarding, meaning they live in someone else’s home, can expect $698 monthly — 30.3% of the poverty line. Boarders make up 22% of income assistance recipients, Calderhead said.

“They get less because they’re treated as boarders, they live in someone else’s premises,” Calderhead said.

A single adult with disabilities can expect $1,042.69 monthly, or $12,512.28 annually. That’s 45.3% of the poverty line, and Calderhead noted the poverty line threshold doesn’t include the costs associated with having a disability. About 70% of income assistance recipients fall under this category, Calderhead said.

Targeted assistance didn’t make up for inflation

In opting not to increase income assistance rates, the government argued it was providing targeted assistance instead. For example: an $8-million increase to the Nova Scotia Child Benefit for families with incomes below $34,000. That works out to an extra $375 annually for those families.

Calderhead’s figures show that increase didn’t even offset inflation.

For a single parent with a two-year-old child, Calderhead calculated they’ll receive $1,803.50 monthly, or $21,642 annually. That’s 55.9% of the poverty line for a single parent, $38,683, and about half of what they receive monthly comes from the Canada Child Benefit. Even with the increase to the Nova Scotia Child Benefit, that single parent’s real income is down 1.8% from last year due to inflation.

Calderhead said a couple with two children, aged 10 and 15, can expect a 1.2% decrease in real income. Their annual income would be $33,682.92. That’s 61% of the poverty line threshold for that family, $55,261.

The fix

After his presentation, Calderhead told reporters the government should adopt a three-year plan to bring people on income assistance up to the poverty line, and then index future increases to inflation.

“Many governments are looking at indexing social assistance. And that’s fine and absolutely necessary, but it’s only part of the story,” Calderhead said.

“They have to be brought up to the official poverty line and adjusted from there.”

Calderhead was speaking to the Law Amendments Committee regarding Bill 279, the Financial Measures Act. That bill essentially legislates the government’s budget. The committee voted to move the bill back to the house for third reading without amendment.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. The province should be ashamed of themselves and not just this government. Down the ages no one seems to care about so many of us.

  2. Zane has hit on the most riveting presentation today at law amendments-otherwise known as “u r wastin’ your time presenting committee”. Bill 279 back without amendments, but there was one particularly chilling moment in the Calderhead presentation where he related,near the end of his superb presentation, a story about a mom returning home and upon opening the refrigerator door asked her children- “Who’s been drinking the milk?” Yes, making your way is about choices- very tough choices for those receiving income assistance.Something those who supported unamended 279 should have dwelt on, but opted not to.