KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This year’s budget may be balanced, but the a small group of people on social assistance and their allies who gathered in front of Province House wondered at what cost.
The rally was organized by the Benefits Reform Action Group and participants hoped to talk about poverty in Nova Scotia with MLAs entering the House to take part in this afternoon’s budget discussions.
During the hour or so the Nova Scotia Advocate was covering the event demonstrators were studiously ignored by Liberal and Conservative MLAs, while NDP MLAs Lenore Zann and Lisa Roberts stopped to chat.
“I am here because I was on welfare and I couldn’t get a place to stay,” said Annette Haché, who now receives a pension. “I had to go to Adsum house for 7 months, and then I got a bachelor apartment, but there were rats everywhere. I couldn’t pay my electric bill, and we don’t get enough money for food.”
“It is ridiculous, this day and age, we are one of the wealthiest countries and there is no excuse for doing this to people,” said Haché. “Housing and food is a right. People shouldn’t have to beg for it, it is a right as a human being.”
“Threat of homelessness is always out there”
Elizabeth Goodridge, another protester who in the not too distant past received social assistance, agreed.
“There is a real problem with child poverty in this province, and a real problem with affordable safe and secure housing,” Goodridge told the Nova Scotia Advocate.
Goodridge, a single mother with some health issues and two children to take care of, is now trying to make ends meet with a part time job that pays a bit over minimum wage. Technically she could apply for income assistance support, but she has given up on Community Services, she said.
“The rates are well below the poverty line, and below any kind of living wage. The personal amount is not enough to buy groceries, and the housing rates are ridiculous. The threat of homelessness is always out there,” said Goodridge.
“The world must know that most people on Income Assistance by far are not there because they are trying to cheat the system, it is way too stressful and dehumanizing,” Goodridge said.
“Everyone on Income Assistance is a human being with dignity”
Susan Leblanc is running for the NDP in North Dartmouth, the riding now represented by Joanne Bernard, the minister of Community Services.
Leblanc decided to join the BRAG rally because she believes welfare rates are inadequate and she wanted to show her support for the poverty activists, she said.
“Everyone on Income Assistance is a human being with dignity, and deserves respect. We need housing that is comfortable and safe, enough food, healthcare, all these things are basic human rights,” said Leblanc.
When prompted Leblanc mentioned the Grocery Security Act as well as a $15 minimum wage as concrete measures that a NDP government would implement to address poverty.
The Grocery Security Act would raise welfare rates to a level that would make food banks redundant, said Leblanc.
That, coupled with $15 minimum wage would make a huge difference. It allows people on low incomes to feed their family with nutritious food and still have some left over,” said Leblanc.
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