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Income Assistance freeze has anti-poverty advocates upset

by Robert Devet

Anti-poverty advocate Ann Duffy presented a petition to commissionaires at Province House.  No politicians were to be found. Photo Robert Devet
The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in Halifax started with a breakfast and panel discussion at St. Matthew's United Church. Photo Robert Devet
The Halifax event was organized by a coalition of anti-poverty groups, the NSGEU, the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers, the North End Community Health Centre, the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council, Adsum for Women and Children, and others. Photo Robert Devet

(K'JIPUKTUK) HALIFAX – The theme of this year's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is respect. And respect is what many people who live on low incomes feel is lacking in their lives.

Over 50 people, many on income assistance, gathered at St. Matthew's United Church on Barrington Street to talk about the lived experience of poverty, and to march on Province House in an attempt to gain politicians' attention.

"This is our chance to say what it is like to live on a low income," said Wayne MacNaughton, one of the organizers of the event. "This is our event. Far too often people like us are dismissed."

Income assistance is simply not enough to live on, speaker after speaker pointed out.

“We need a livable income,” said Amy Moonshadow, chair of the Community Advocates Network, an organization that for years has spoken up about poverty-related issues.

“A week ago I fell and broke my glasses, they haven't been replaced in twelve years,” said Moonshadow.The Department of Community Services (DCS) will only pay $160 (for the glasses), where am I going to find the remaining $440?”

That's the kind of problem people on income assistance face each and every day. Research has shown that there is a substantial gap between what it costs to support an individual or a family, and the income assistance DCS provides.

For instance, FoodARC researchers at Mount Saint Vincent University established that nutritious meals are entirely out of reach for people on social assistance or the working poor, once rent, power, transportation and childcare expenses are taken care of. We also know that 29,000 children in Nova Scotia live in poverty, which is almost one child out of five. The need to stay warm in winter often causes people to go hungry.

Not only is income assistance not enough, this year, for the first time in four years, it will not increase.  Prior increments amounted to $47 in total during those four years. Every little bit helps when you are struggling to put food on the table, one speaker said.

“That freeze was part of their most recent one percent departmental budget cut”, said Ann Duffy, another member of the Community Advocates Network. “ Did they really need to get their savings on the backs of those who live in poverty?”

Community Services bore the brunt of many complaints.

“They are the bullies, we are the ones they love to intimidate,” said one speaker, commenting on Kendall Worth's battle all the way to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court after DCS bureaucracy stopped paying for his special needs diet.

DCS spokesperson Lori Errington told the Halifax Media Co-op that some years the department is unable to increase the rates. She also referred to a comprehensive review of the income assistance system that DCS is conducting. And she mentioned increases in child benefits and assistance for senior citizens in her email response to the Halifax Media Co-op.

But the department's response was not good enough for many who had gathered in the community room of St. Matthews United. “We have been promised changes since at least 2010, but absolutely nothing ever happens,” said one speaker to loud applause.

At mid-morning peoples marched to Province House, where they handed a petition to the commissionaires standing guard at the door. No politicians were on hand at the time.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert




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Topics: Poverty
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