“I could not have imagined the reality of being on social assistance.” Aron Spidle, welfare recipient featured in the documentary My Week on Welfare
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Imagine worrying whether your kids will eat tonight. Imagine living in a slum, dealing with rats and bedbugs. Imagine that politicians ignore you, that Community Services case workers micro-manage your life, and that nobody seems to care.
And imagine then hearing that you are lazy, milking the system, good for nothing.
Welcome to Nova Scotia.
My Week on Welfare, a documentary that premieres this Saturday, offers a glimpse into the lives of people caught up in Nova Scotia's welfare system.
People on social assistance invited filmmaker Jackie Torrens into their homes and into their lives, for days (and nights) on end.
“I wanted to live with somebody of the kind of demographic you would expect to be on welfare. So I lived with a single mother, who is doing amazing things, who had to battle Community Services to stay in school,” Torrens tells the Halifax Media Co-op.
“Then I wanted to spend time with somebody you don't typically think of, and that was this white middle-aged male. He has a Masters in Theology. He was disabled and he worked all his life. He battled illness daily. He is a conservative-leaning traditionalist.”
Torrens encounters other people on welfare as well.
“I also visit people who don't have as many resources, not as much support, so people can see what is it like when you are utterly alone. Poverty is really isolating at the best of times, even if you have support systems like family.
“But for those who don't have family, who are unable to get out of their house, it's even more isolation. And stigma further isolates, stigma is so cruel and unnecessary.”
Torrens was on welfare herself, as a single mother, in the late eighties.
“I was going hungry then, and people who are on welfare now face more obstacles than I faced ,” she says.
“I hope we can start talking about some things that desperately need to change about the system. People are hungry, people are starving, people don't have enough food.
“And people do not have access to the education that I had when I was on assistance in the eighties, or that the current minister of Community Services had in the nineties when she got two degrees.
“It's not fair to have people go on a system that punishes them for being there, and makes it almost impossible to get off, and keeps them starving, and ashamed, alone and isolated.”
Click here for more Halifax Media Co-op coverage of Community Services and social assistance issues.
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