featured Inclusion Poverty

Being on income assistance is work experience

Being on income assistance is hard work, and people should be able to add it to their resumes.

These employers I am talking about most likely do not know poverty from a hole in the ground. 

Of course, today potential employers would look at the experience of being on income assistance as something to laugh at if they were to see it written on a resume. After all, potential employers, just like most middle and upper class people, consider people on income assistance, and especially those who have been on it for a long time, as “the little people with no life and who are stuck”.


Or these employers may think that the income assistance client who is applying for the job is just lazy and just want to sit at home and do nothing.  They tend to pay no mind to the lives of the people who are part of the poverty/income assistance community.  Also, remember that these employers I am talking about most likely do not know poverty from a hole in the ground.

Well, they are wrong.

What potential employers do not realize is that being on income assistance is work experience within itself.  Potential employers tend to think that people in income assistance like to live life being dependent on the system. This however is not true. A lot of income assistance clients want to work.

Income assistance clients can potentially bring a lot more experience into a workplace then a potential employer realizes.

Being on income assistance is all about managing money and making ends meet. It is also about careful organization of your limited allowance you receive on an income assistance check. Furthermore, living on income assistance is about finding ways to cut cost of your living expenses.  These are examples of works related experiences gained from being on social assistance that employers do not see.

Two other skills also come to mind.

While on income assistance, not only has the client gained a lot of knowledge about budgeting their money, they are also very good at sharing cost saving ideas with others who are on the system. The other skill is advocating to make your life situation better.

Here are some of the skills I myself would list if I were to apply for my dream job of poverty advocate.

Economical shopping!

Being on income assistance, the allowance limits makes it hard for an income assistance client to find cost saving measures and to prioritize what they need most. Buying second-hand clothing helps when you are on a low income. Here in Halifax/Dartmouth there are a few places where you can get good deals on good quality items that fit perfectly within what income assistance can afford.

These places include the Salvation Army thrift shops, Value Village, and Dollarama. If an income assistance client was ever interested in wanting to look at a career of being a market researcher, the skill the client gains of looking at where they can get the best deals on things can really come in handy.

Also people on income assistance tend to be always looking at the flyers and cutting the coupons for savings. This skill could come into handy for applying for a job as a market researcher as a poverty advocate.

Policy research!

By living on income assistance, you are also living by the Community Services policies. You gain knowledge of these policies as time of living on income assistance goes on. In my case I learned how to advocate for change by being a member of BRAG, and at present the chair.

Unlike a lawyer, you do you research by living in the system’s experience.  For those of us who lost special diet allowances over the past few years, we had to do research on how-else we could afford our special diets in order to continue eating healthy, and how to fight unfair decisions.

Advocating making you living situation better!

I feel I gained this skill first of all by just getting out of bed in the morning and living my day to day life.

But my days of writing for and selling Street Feat Magazine until they went out of business, and then writing for the Halifax Media Coop. And of course at present writing for the excellent Nova Scotia Advocate.

Building Community!

People on income assistance build community by attending places where poor people gather, which I talked about in my past Halifax Media Co-op article titled Down and out in Halifax/Dartmouth. They talk to each other about tips on saving money and where they can get things they need at affordable within their budgets. These are safe places where people can talk openly talk about being on the Income Assistance system.


Income assistance clients gain the experience of first – analyzing and then second – coping with their financial situations throughout the time they are living on income assistance.

Years of playing around with their income assistance allowances made them mathematical geniuses.

$535.00 is the shelter allowances limit for income assistance clients. This has to cover rent and power bill.  $275.00 is the personal allowance.  When rent and power bill extend beyond the $535.00 shelter allowance, the remainder of these has to be paid out of the client’s personal allowance.

Then there are special needs. Unfortunately over the past few years people have seen their special needs allowances cut. Learning to live life while budgeting their current limited allowances is work experience all on its own. Living on these limited allowances and once-a-month check is not an easy task.   

According to some income assistance clients who I talk to, years of playing around with their income assistance allowances made them mathematical geniuses.   





One Comment

  1. Having been on Social Assistance years ago I found this an excellent article indeed. As a Parish
    Priest serving across Canada (including N.S.) fifty years I found many of my people on social
    assistance /income assistance saying “you wouldn’t understand”. Nice to say, “maybe I would”! Indeed, as the good article suggests, prospective employers have a lot to gain from
    those of us from this particular part of the “school of hard knocks”. Byron.

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