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Activists want welfare rates unfrozen

Horrors of life on social assistance exposed in personal testimonies

by Robert Devet

People living in poverty rallied at the Community Services office on Gottingen Street in North End Halifax. They want an end to the two-year long welfare freeze.  Photo Robert Devet
People living in poverty rallied at the Community Services office on Gottingen Street in North End Halifax. They want an end to the two-year long welfare freeze. Photo Robert Devet
Poverty activist Wayne MacNaughton was gagged to symbolize the sense that government isn't listening. Photo Robert Devet
Poverty activist Wayne MacNaughton was gagged to symbolize the sense that government isn't listening. Photo Robert Devet
Halifax Media Co-op contributor Kendall Worth asks how he can make ends meet while prices go up but social assistance rates remain frozen. Photo Robert Devet
Halifax Media Co-op contributor Kendall Worth asks how he can make ends meet while prices go up but social assistance rates remain frozen. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – This morning about thirty people living in poverty rallied at the Community Services office on Gottingen Street in North End Halifax. The event was organized by the Community Advocates Network, a group consisting of people living in poverty and their allies.

People at the rally are outraged about the Community Services decision to freeze social assistance rates. A yearly increase based on the consumer price index was the normal practice until the Liberals took office.

Many people at the rally wore drafting tape over their mouths to symbolize the sense that government isn't listening. But then they took off their gags and spoke anyway!

“What we are forced to live on is a personal allowance of only $255 a month. That covers everything you have to pay for except shelter,” poverty activist Wayne MacNaughton told the crowd. “How could anybody manage to do that?”

As is always the case at these events, the stories people tell provide glimpses into lives that most Nova Scotians would find unimaginable.

“We can't afford to wash our hair, to do our laundry, to do anything. We can't live with dignity,” said Judy Deal, who is disabled and depends on social assistance.

“It is horrifying, they put people through hell,” Deal said.

“We either have to put up, or shut up,” she added. “And If we speak up we're crucified, thrown on the streets. Well, I don't want to kiss ass no more.”

“I am looking at hospitalization because I am so much under weight that my heart is going to stop,” said Cassandra Cary, another person who lives with disabilities and relies on social assistance.

“But now they are asking me to review my special diet. My doctor has indicated three years in a row that I am permanently disabled. .And now they're telling me to find a job, how can I fond a job when I don't feel good half the time, when I can't eat most of the week?” Cary asked.

“It is ridiculous, and I am tired of living this way,” Cary said.

Paul O'Hara is a long-time social worker at the North End Community Health Centre.

“These are people forgotten by our province, and they have been for the last thirty years, it doesn't matter what political party is in power,” O'Hara told the Halifax Media Co-op.

“It's very discouraging to hear our current minister imply that people (on social assistance) can be working, because the majority of people on welfare can't. I don't know why she says that. Somebody needs to take her to task for that. It is very disrespectful of her to say that,” O'Hara said.

MacNaughton also no longer expects politicians to act without political pressure.

“The cutbacks that are going on were started with the last (NDP) government. I don't have much faith in any political party to change. Pressure has to come from ordinary Nova Scotians,” MacNaughton believes.

“This is not what Nova Scotians want, this is not what they want Nova Scotia to be like. If people don;t get enough to live than I think that outrages a lot of people in this province,” MacNaughton said.

After the rally some of the participants discussed further activities.

Stay tuned. This could turn out to be an eventful summer.

Click here for more coverage of Community Services and social assistance issues.

Follow Robert DeVet on Twitter


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