D- Nova Scotia Report Cards

Section 1: Experience of Poverty

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
People Feeling Worse off Compared to Last Year
56.7%
F
F
People Spending More than 30% of Income on Housing
40.9%
F
D
People Having Trouble Accessing Health Care
12.4%
C
B-
Government Support Recipients Who Say Rates Are Insufficient to Keep Up with Cost of Living
46%
D
C-
Percent of Income Spent on Fixed Costs beyond Housing
61.4%
F
F
Overall
D-
D

Section 2: Poverty Measures

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Poverty Rate (MBM)
13.1%
F
F
Provincial Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line (Singles)
34%
F
F
Provincial Disability Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line
47%
F
F
Unemployment Rate
6.2%
D-
D
Food Insecurity Rate
28.9%
F
F
Overall
F
F

Section 3: Material Deprivation

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Inadequate Standard of Living
38.9%
F
F
Severely Inadequate Standard of Living
29.9%
F
F
Overall
F
F

Section 4: Legislative Progress

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Legislative Progress
B
F
Overall
B
F
×

Nova Scotia has made significant legislative progress since the 2023 report card demonstrating a genuine awareness of the issues facing residents. While the province still has some of the worst results across the first three report card sections, if it continues to progress as they have, these results will certainly improve, and their overall grade will rise.

Poverty Overview

Nova Scotia shows concerning signs regarding the extent of the financial struggle across the province. Perhaps most worrying is that 57 per cent of people are feeling financially worse off than they did one year ago. This is 12 percentage points higher than the national average and 4.5 percentage points higher than reported last year.

While the overall price of goods has risen at the same pace as the national rate, the cost of food increased by 6.7 per cent in Nova Scotia, compared to 5 per cent nationally between December 2022 and December 2023. Forty per cent of Nova Scotians agree that they struggle to access fresh, affordable food. This is 8 percentage points higher than the national average and is the second-highest rate in the country. In addition, 36 per cent of residents agree that they worry about feeding themselves or their family, which is 7 percentage points higher than the national average.

Unsurprisingly, when asked to rank the importance of various solutions to poverty, people in Nova Scotia ranked reducing food costs (97 per cent), reducing the cost of utilities (92 per cent), and reducing taxes on households with low incomes (91 per cent) among the highest priorities.

Nova Scotia has a poverty rate of 13.1 per cent, which is higher than that of Canada as a whole (9.9 per cent) and is the highest of any province by a relatively large margin.

One problem that is, broadly unique to Atlantic Canada, is the presence of poverty among the full age spectrum of young children, adults, and seniors (aged 65+). Seniors now comprise almost one-quarter of Nova Scotia’s population, and currently almost 6 per cent of seniors in the province live in poverty compared to 4.7 per cent nationally. The poverty rate among seniors living alone is especially high, at 13 per cent. The issue of poverty among seniors must be addressed.

For children (aged under 18), the 2021 poverty rate was 11.4 per cent; roughly 3 percentage points higher than the rest of the country. Poverty among youth aged 18–24 is 18.4 per cent, which is one of the highest provincial rates of youth poverty in Canada.

Other concerning poverty demographics include people who live alone (24 per cent live in poverty compared to 21.5 per cent nationally) and single parents, who had a poverty rate of 18.4 per cent compared to 14.4 per cent nationally. Table 1 shows a selection of demographic groups and their associated poverty rates.

The cost of living and affordable housing

The cost of living and affordable housing crises are two of the greatest factors impacting poverty in Canada today.

 

In Nova Scotia, rental costs surged 12.9 per cent last year, the highest of any province. The costs of owning a home, meanwhile, increased 5.6 per cent, which is slightly lower than the Canadian rate of 6.7 per cent. This reflects a fundamental imbalance in the pace of construction in the rental housing market in Nova Scotia which, like other Atlantic provinces, has been exacerbated by a unprecedented growth in population over the last several years.

 

One of the most important housing affordability indicators is core housing need. Simply put, this is the percentage of the population living in housing that costs more than 30 per cent of their household income or in conditions that are considered unacceptable. In 2024, 41 per cent of Nova Scotians are spending 30 per cent or more of their income on their housing.


Poverty and Inequality in Nova Scotia

Racialized people in Nova Scotia—especially Indigenous peoples and Black Nova Scotians—experience disproportionate barriers to socio-economic opportunities. They are significantly more likely (23.2 per cent) to experience poverty than people who are not racialized (7.5 per cent). This is nearly double the rate of racialized poverty across the country (12.1 per cent in 2021). In addition, two-thirds (64 per cent) of racialized individuals were first-generation immigrants (born outside of Canada) who experienced a poverty rate of 28.1 per cent, which is also double the national rate (14.1 per cent). Overall, among immigrants, the poverty rate is 13.3 per cent. For recent immigrants, the poverty rate jumps to 23 per cent, compared to a national rate of 16 per cent.

Meanwhile, non-permanent residents (people who have a work or study permit or have claimed refugee status) have a poverty rate of 48.3 per cent, which is higher than the rate for this group in Canada as a whole (41.8 per cent).

The poverty rate among the Indigenous population in Nova Scotia was 11 per cent in 2021, which is similar to the rate for this group in Canada as a whole (12 per cent), and among First Nations people in Nova Scotia, it was 14.2 per cent.

After decades of decline, in 2021 Nova Scotia experienced its largest population growth since the 1950s. While this growth leads to increased tax revenues, it has also put significant strain on services and contributed to the province’s affordability crisis.

 

In response, the provincial government has recently made significant investments in health care services, but it has not paid the same attention to other areas, such as income security. Although welfare incomes temporarily increased in 2022 because of several one-time payments to help recipients deal with the affordability crisis, these were not continued in the 2024 provincial budget. A modest one-time payment of $150 to residents with disabilities who are unable to work is one of the few that are being continued.

 

However, the recent budget did include measures to introduce indexation to a number of tax credits and brackets, including the basic personal amount (BPA). This move addresses, in part, recommendation 4 of our 2023 provincial report card. Crucially, social assistance rates were not included in the indexation plan. It is therefore expected that the generosity of provincial social assistance will return to its pre-COVID-19 trend of gradual erosion over time as inflation continues to eat up the purchasing power of residents with the lowest incomes.

 

This last point speaks to the critical need to renew Nova Scotia’s poverty reduction strategy. First tabled in 2009, the strategy has not been updated despite being four years past its 2020 vision. The province is currently not guided by any targets and is therefore not accountable for what progress is—or is not—made.

 

Nova Scotia has stepped up its investments in affordable housing construction, but they remain far too modest to have any meaningful impact. The 2024 provincial budget allocated an additional $15 million for the construction of new public housing units. The province has not given an exact figure, but it is estimated that this funding will contribute to the construction of approximately 50 new homes. Nova Scotia has taken some strong steps to amend regulations to increase both density and speed of construction, but they may not be enough to deal with the current shortfall. Last October, the province released a new housing strategy that contained a projected $1 billion investment and a plan to support the construction of 40,000 homes over the next five years. However, recent modelling by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) projects that for Nova Scotia to support its growing population and restore affordability in a market where vacancy rates are already fairly low, it will need an additional 60,000 new housing units over the next six years.

 

Thanks in part to federal funding, the province operates a targeted rent supplement program that provides up to $200 per month to households that are in core housing need and are not currently in rent-assisted housing. The program experienced a tremendous increase in demand throughout 2023, which clearly indicates worsening housing affordability conditions. Although the province has  increased the number of available rent supplements in the last two years, it also adjusted the program parameters to deal with growing demand by increasing the eligibility threshold for support from 30 per cent of income devoted to shelter costs to 50 per cent, effectively cutting off support for hundreds of struggling renters.

 

We note that significant investments are planned to introduce a universal provincial school meal program and to continue the expansion of local primary care networks. Money has also been allocated to work toward creating universal access to mental health and addictions support.

 

These important investments will help to improve the quality and stability of life for many Nova Scotia residents with low incomes. However, these investments must eventually be paired with efforts to improve income security and, more broadly, to recognize that poor health is an outcome of the social and economic conditions in which people live, not a state of being that can be fixed by itself.

Poverty Reduction

1. Implement a poverty reduction plan for Nova Scotia.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

The province’s poverty reduction strategy has not been updated in 15 years, so this is a critical step to help determine which areas of investment would have the most impact on reducing poverty over both the medium term and the long term.

2. Introduce tax indexation, indexing income brackets to inflation
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Nova Scotia took a large step forward as it plans to index tax brackets and the basic personal amount starting in January 2025. The government followed-up on this announcement with plans to also index income assistance rates.

3. Removing co-payments for provincial pharmacare programs
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

This move could save people from having to choose between purchasing crucial medications and putting food on the table. It would have a notable impact, as high prescription costs force a significant number of visitors to Nova Scotia food banks to either spend less on food (56%) or leave prescriptions unfilled (50%).

4. Improve the Poverty Reduction Credit by doubling it, indexing it, and expanding eligibility beyond the $16,000 cut-off.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

The Poverty Reduction Credit is a unique income support instrument in Canada in that, unlike most government programs at both the federal and provincial levels, it is specifically designed for people who have low incomes and do not have dependent children. This group is often forgotten in policy design, as governments tend to focus strongly on families. Although the credit has been periodically increased since it was introduced in 2010, it has not been enhanced from its current level of $500 per year with an income cut-off at $16,000 per year.

Affordable Housing

5. Expand the Targeted Rental Benefit to anyone in the private rental market who needs it and whose shelter costs exceed 30 per cent of their income rather than 50 per cent.
PRC New Policy

This approach would ensure consistency with the design of the federal Canada Housing Benefit. As the Targeted Benefit is co-funded by the federal government, we also recommend Ottawa insist on similar changes to the provincial program.

6. Establish a large fund to offer low-cost loans to help spur the creation of affordable rental housing, with specific conditions in place to ensure these units remain affordable over their life.
PRC New Policy

The province is building nowhere near the number of affordable rental housing units it needs to simply keep pace with a growing population, let alone restore a greater degree of affordability to the marketplace. This approach would follow the lead of BC Builds and the federal government and could establish a $1 billion financing pool at a fiscal cost of less than $100 million (assuming some degree of bad debt expenses and below-market lending).