featured Poverty

Lives on welfare – I want to work, I want my dignity back

 KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) –  We continue our Lives on Welfare conversation with Bernice (not her real name). Last week she told us how she managed to save $85 per month on electricity, only to see Community Services reduce her allowance by that same amount.

All this while she makes end meet on $140 a month after rent and power bills are paid. Actually, it looks like there will be further cuts.

This week Bernice talks about how hopeless being on welfare makes you feel, and how it takes away your dignity.

bernice-2Last year I was looking for a job, and then my mother was in her last days, in September she passed away. I wanted to spend my last days with my mother. Then I had to deal with missing her and grieving and all that. I think I went on assistance in July.

I told my caseworker at least I’d like to go to work part time. I said I don’t want to be on the system, I want to work. I want to be self sufficient. I want my dignity back.

She said, “oh you can work?” I said, I told you this on the day I applied, I said at that time, hopefully this is only temporary. I just need a little bit of help and pay this and that, and then mom got worse, and you have no control over things like that. I am ready now, I am going crazy sitting here and depending on this little bit of money that you give me, and then you keep cutting it, and excuse after excuse after excuse.

I have never felt as degraded as I do now. It’s painful, it’s humiliating.

I said, I ask for a bus pass. But you won’t even allow me transportation expenses to look for work. Yet you complain about all these people on the system. Wouldn’t you want one less person on the system?

She said, “oh you can work?” I said, I can’t look for work because you won’t give me money for transportation to look for a job.

It doesn’t give me faith in voting anymore, nothing ever happens, it gets worse. I said, do you guys get a commission every time you save the government a little bit of money? You guys get a raise on your pay cheque? I am sorry. I am just so upset. Something is wrong.

They made me take my CPP early. I worked for that. It may not be much. But I worked for that. I had eight children. But I worked in between.

I said I just want a job. I am not looking for a career, I am sixty. But I am not dead yet.

It’s not only me, it’s everyone. How do we change this? How do we get through to them?

Half my family doesn’t even know I am on assistance. That’s a reason why I don’t go public.  I have never felt as degraded as I do now. It’s painful, it’s humiliating.

I raised eight children. I worked most of my life. And then to come to this.




  1. Bernice should look at her highest and lowest electricity bills for the past year. That is what community services bases their allotment for power on (or at least, they used to).
    She needs to ‘play the system’ – which is called cheating by some; the only way to survive by others – by increasing her power bill for one month. It makes it tough for that one month but should help her in the end.
    Assuming she pays for her electricity use separate from her rent, increasing a power bill can be done in a number of ways. Not doing all those things she has been doing to decrease her power bill for one. Things as simple as not turning off the lights when she leaves a room and/or using warm/hot water to wash things (even washing her hands) can make a noticeable difference.
    Big power users are a stove and oven – so she should do more cooking and not use her microwave. Another is frequent use of a hair dryer – a blow dryer.

    Does she know how to read her meter? (Of course with everything going electronic she might not have one that is readable.) That way she will not go too overboard.

    1. My reply is two years late but I must address all the misinformation both in the article where it states her cheque went down when she saved on her power bill and in this comment. Allotment for power? The shelter allowance for a single person with disabilities is $535, which is expected to cover all shelter expenses, including rent, electricity, hot water, and water (in rare cases where this is not included in the rent). It is irrelevant if one’s power bill and rent are more than $535. It only matters if they go below $535. The only way her monthly cheque would have been reduced by her saving money on her power bill is if her total shelter expenses were now less than $535. I know of no funds for power other than that which is included in the shelter allowance of $535. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. Bernice is going to find things stacked against “getting off the system” if she does find work. She will immediately lose 70% of her earnings, starting from the first dollar she earns.

  3. Sadly, “the system” is designed for failure. Bernice’s story is particularly unique, because she wants to work but isn’t alloted funds for a bus pass to apply for jobs. It’s a vicious cycle. You go to them to get help, then they cut every corner, preventing you from getting away from the system. When you’re on welfare, the government owns you. They even limit the amount of time that your significant other can spend in your home. I needed them from 1997 – 2003. I went to school full time and worked part time during his whole period. My social worker refused to help me with childcare expenses so that I could go to school and work. Thankfully, in 2000, another caseworker took me on. She assessed my situation, said “I’ll be damned if we don’t help you with childcare while you’re in school!!!”, and she cut me a cheque. I secured a full time job in 2003 and called her to tell her I no longer needed assistance and to thank her for believing in me. Her response? She said “It makes so much more sense to help someone who is trying to help themselves. I knew that when you graduated, you would be out of the system for good. We would never hear from you again”. I admire her Alot. She cared, and so many don’t.

  4. Not saying her story is completely untrue but BS on they don’t provide you with transport fees. I’ve been in the system since August and they’ve done nothing but try to help me get back on my feet.

    1. Only those with a mobility issue get any money for transportation. It is considered a medical need only. As well, only those with mobility issues get money for a phone. Those looking for work do not get money for a phone either. They give you no help in finding a job. You must have had a caseworker who went above and beyond their designated duty, which is to interrogate you to make sure you get as little money as possible. Yep, I’m two years late posting a reply but your comment made me very upset and I hope you might read it someday.

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