To assess the affordability of a nutritious diet for households earning minimum wage in Nova Scotia.
Food costing data were collected in 43 randomly selected grocery stores throughout NS in 2002 using the National Nutritious Food Basket (NNFB). To estimate the affordability of a nutritious diet for households earning minimum wage, average monthly costs for essential expenses were subtracted from overall income to see if enough money remained for the cost of the NNFB. This was calculated for three types of household: 1) two parents and two children; 2) lone parent and two children; and 3) single male. Calculations were also made for the proposed 2006 minimum wage increase with expenses adjusted using the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The monthly cost of the NNFB priced in 2002 for the three types of household was 572.90 dollars, 351.68 dollars, and 198.73 dollars, respectively. Put into the context of basic living, these data showed that Nova Scotians relying on minimum wage could not afford to purchase a nutritious diet and meet their basic needs, placing their health at risk. These basic expenses do not include other routine costs, such as personal hygiene products, household and laundry cleaners, and prescriptions and costs associated with physical activity, education or savings for unexpected expenses.
People working at minimum wage in Nova Scotia have not had adequate income to meet basic needs, including a nutritious diet. The 2006 increase in minimum wage to 7.15 dollars/hr is inadequate to ensure that Nova Scotians working at minimum wage are able to meet these basic needs. Wage increases and supplements, along with supports for expenses such as childcare and transportation, are indicated to address this public health problem.
This study assessed the affordability of a basic nutritious diet for selected household types relying on income assistance (IA) by comparing potential incomes to the costs of the National Nutritious Food Basket (NNFB) and other essential expenditures in Nova Scotia from 2002 to 2010, and examined the adequacy of IA allowances during this time period.
The cost of the NNFB was surveyed across a random sample of grocery stores in NS during five time periods: 2002, 2004/05, 2007, 2008 and 2010, and was factored into affordability scenarios for three household types relying on IA: a family of four, a lone mother with three children, and a lone male. Essential monthly expenses were deducted from total net income to determine if adequate funds remained for the NNFB.
For each time period examined, the findings demonstrated that all household types faced a significant monthly deficit if they purchased a basic nutritious diet. In each household scenario, the potential monthly deficits increased from 2002 to 2010, ranging from $112 in 2002 for a lone mother with three children to $523 in 2010 for a lone male.
Despite increases in allowances, these findings suggest that the risk of food insecurity has increased for IA-dependent households in NS. To address this public health challenge, public health practitioners must advocate for integrated, progressive and sustainable social welfare policies that ensure that individuals and families relying on IA have adequate income and other supports to meet their basic needs, including access to a healthy diet.