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The potboiler discussion - Social Assistance in Nova Scotia

by Rural Poverty In Annapolis Valley West

There are a lot of good and caring people in the Department of Community Services but there are also a lot of people who don't know their arse from their elbows when it comes to compassion. 2013 celebrations of the International Day to Eradicate Poverty - Photo Robert Devet
There are a lot of good and caring people in the Department of Community Services but there are also a lot of people who don't know their arse from their elbows when it comes to compassion. 2013 celebrations of the International Day to Eradicate Poverty - Photo Robert Devet

We have been taught either by our culture, our families, our school system or whatever else, to dislike and dismiss anybody who receives social assistance also known as 'welfare'.  We have been taught to call them names (Welfare Queens, Bums, Losers, Failures, Moochers, etc etc) and blame their need for assistance on themselves.

I went for a visit with a friend of mine yesterday and, over coffee, while discussing the heat rebate (he got his yesterday) and how little he lives on per month (less than $500 a month on CPP disability) I asked him if he was angry about working hard all his life to end up living on so little.  His response?
"Naah.  It could have been worse."
"How could it have been worse?" I asked.
"I could have ended up on welfare" he answered.
"What's so bad about welfare?" I asked.  "At least you'd get more money"
"Yeah but then the welfare workers are in your business, asking you all sorts of personal stuff, making you jump through hoops and people treat you like shit when they find out you are on welfare" he answered.

How interesting.  He'd rather live on way less money than put up with people's abuse towards him if they found out that he was on social assistance.  He'd rather go to the Food Bank each month and get help that way than go on social assistance.  He'd rather risk being caught breaking the law by purchasing and smoking pot rather than go on social assistance where he could get his legal pain meds paid for.

And that speaks volumes as to how we treat people in poverty. 

The working poor are treated like they are disposable; jobs are poorly paid with no benefits such as medical, pensions and very little vacation pay.  You will likely not see an raise in pay because minimum wage jobs are often seasonal and unstable. 

We are taught that it doesn't take any particular skill or talent to clean toilets and make beds as a hotel maid.  Oh but it does.  Lots of people I know couldn't clean a toilet properly or make a bed properly no matter how many times you tell them how to do it. It takes skill and talent to learn how to do it efficiently and effectively.

We are taught that labour jobs require only brawn but no brains.  But it does take skill and talent to know how to lift something repeatedly without wrecking your back.  It takes skill to learn how to move things, pick out the proper tools, know how long a job will take and how to finish it well done and on time.

But our great economists, accountants, policy makers insist that these jobs and jobs like it do not require skills and talents, therefore , they should not be rewarded with decent pay.  How wrong they are.  Watch how quickly our world will fall apart if we don't have someone to cook our food at restaurants, count our change out at a gas station, shovel our snow when we cannot,  serve us pleasantly and promptly at a local store. 

But if the working poor as considered 'disposable' by our society, then the people on social assistance are our country's version of India's Untouchables.  We want nothing to do with them; we think the reason why they are on social assistance is due to some mistake or series of mistakes they have made, it's all their own fault, they are looking for an 'easy living', etc etc etc

It doesn't seem to matter to us that we don't know what their lives are, have been, what lead them to this stage in their lives...we think we have the right to judge them and judge them harshly at that.

Many social assistance recipients are fleeing abusive relationships; many are dealing with undiagnosed or diagnosed mental health issues; many are disabled from a life time of physically unhealthy work or a disability they were born with or a disability that manifested itself during their lifetime.  Many are single moms or dads that are on this system because our culture does little to nothing to support families with children if you don't have money to pay for the services. Perhaps they moved to or were raised in, an area such as this, which started out with great employment in the past but has been slowly dismantled by past and present governments who close down offices, shut down services and move them to other areas, neglects our infrastructure such as highways and railways (yes we had them at one time) and now it is very tough trying to get a job of any sort.

I know one woman who worked for the federal government helping unemployed people.  A few years ago in a meeting she said that she would '...rather scrub other people's toilets than go on Employment Insurance." 
"Ah yes" said one of her co-workers, "You are assuming there are paid jobs out there for toilet scrubbers.  Let me assure you, there are not."

(And what is someone with that attitude doing in a position where she is supposed to help unemployed people anyway?)

We and they are already dealing with a ton of crap in our lives just trying to survive in poverty.  Perhaps you see one of them, a neighbour or a friend, who is on social assistance and doing something you disagree with.  That does NOT give us the right to judge them, report them, put them down.   Stop and think what your feelings would be if that was a rich person doing the actions you disagree with.  Would you be so harsh?  Would you be so judgemental?  Or would you just dismiss it as something you disagree with but it's none of your business.

Our worthiness must not be based on how much money we make or how much money we have.  Our worthiness needs to be based on how human we are and how we treat our fellow and sister human beings.

When someone is living with a disability, living with the trauma of abuse, trying to raise children by themselves, we do not need to add to their stress and burdens by judging them and calling them names. Our mothers always told us, "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all." And if there was ever a place that old adage should apply, it is here.

Okay.....off the soap box and on to practical things.....

If you are a social assistance recipient (which I have been in the past by the way), then you have probably been subjected to so many rules, policies, and personalities that it makes your head spin.
You have probably been to the social assistance office where the receptionists are behind bullet proof plexi glass windows.  You have been asked to sign away a number of papers giving them, the Department of Community Services, permission to look into your bank accounts, your medical information, and a lot of other stuff.  You have been assigned a Case Worker who, may or may not, make your life hell.  Like any other place, there are a lot of good and caring people in the Department of Community Services but there are also a lot of people who don't know their arse from their elbows when it comes to compassion....and their own damned departmental policies. 

I have seen friends of mine go on Social Assistance, get the help they needed and get off again.  I have seen friends of mine who are on there for life and trying very hard to survive on very little but have the support of their Case Workers and communities.

And I have seen friends of mine go on Social Assistance and be abused by their Case Workers and communities.

With that in mind, I am putting up this most wonderful publication that was put out there for free by . Dalhousie Legal Aid.  It is called The Welfare Rights Guide and is a PDF that you can print off or just read on your computer.  It tells you, in plain language, what the social assistance policies are and what are your rights.

If we all were paid Living Wages for our work, we wouldn't have to apply for social assistance.  If we were given our share of the wealth that we have helped to create in this country, we wouldn't have to apply for social assistance.  If we had a Guaranteed Annual Income Program in place, we wouldn't have to apply for social assistance.  The fact that we need social assistance is a cultural failure on the part of our leaders, not on the part of those who need help. (And I will be writing about this in a future blog post)

So please, don't run down people on social assistance.  Don't share those stupid memes on Facebook about welfare recipients and people in poverty.  You don't know what happened in their lives, you don't know what is going on now.  If you can, offer to help.  If you can't, then just keep your mouth shut.

Cheers and Chuckles from the (BRRRRRRR) Poverty Trenches.

Re-posted (with permission) from the excellent blog Rural Poverty in Annnapolis West. Follow its author on Twitter @RuralPovertyNS


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