KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This Saturday a dozen or so members and supporters of the Benefits Reform Action Group (BRAG) marched through North Dartmouth, the constituency of Community Services minister Joanne Bernard, and rallied near her campaign headquarters at the Dartmouth Shopping Centre.
BRAG members, people on income assistance and their allies, believe current benefits are too low and they should be able to live their lives in dignity.
Bernard’s constituency office is tucked in next to a Payday Loan and is just a few short steps from a Salvation Army Thrift Store, a YMCA job centre, a pawn shop and a discount grocery. It is obvious, this Heart of Dartmouth strip mall knows the face of poverty.
The group planned to march along the sidewalk of the Dartmouth Shopping Centre, stopping briefly at Bernard’s Campaign office, before continuing along Wyse Road, but protesters were prevented from making a stop in front the Minister’s headquarters by a security guard.
“Joanne Bernard had been nothing but a big disappointment,” said Kendall Worth, chair of BRAG. ”She has shown that she is not in favour of helping the people who have no choice but to depend on the system. She promised that there would be an ESIA transformation, and she made people in Nova Scotia believe that a transformation is happening. We have seen some evidence that something is happening, but it is all kept a secret.”
“Treat us like human beings, that is all we want”
Dorothy Wells, a Dartmouth North resident who depends on an electric scooter to move around feels humiliated by the practices of the income assistance program.
“I live in Joanne Bernard’s riding. I am here because I don’t agree withe their policy of letting people like us go hungry or use food banks that are miles away. We really need a bit more, it’s not enough to last a month. That doesn’t cover what it cost. I had two brain aneurysms operated on, I may have two more growing, yet I don’t get a phone. I have to have a phone, so that also comes out of my personal allowance. There are other things, like personal hygiene, I just can’t afford it,” said Wells.
“I would tell Bernard, please have pity on us, treat us like human beings, that is all we want. The scooter is paid for by my sister’s neighbour who was dying of cancer, and he gave it to me a couple op weeks before he died, because I was trying to get around on a cane. Community Services wouldn’t get me one, because they said I had to be in a wheelchair first. This is what I would like her to know, come and walk in my shoes for a month, not just a week but a month. See if she can take it, I bet you she can’t,” Wells said.
“I cried myself to sleep many a night because I didn’t even have bus fare to go get cat food, and had to borrow from a neighbour, that is humiliating,” Wells added. “I already voted, and not for her.”
Raise the rates
For Michelle Malette, a Housing Support worker at Adsum for Women and Children, a Halifax women’s shelter, one of the biggest issues is that the income assistance rates are too low.
“Folks who are considered able bodied get $300 for the housing allowance, $535 for a single person on disability, $575 for parent and a child or a couple, $620 for two children and it doesn’t really go up a lot after that. It’s next to impossible for people to find a safe and healthy home for those rates.”
“The thing is getting (the message) out to the general public.” said Kendall Worth.”There are a lots of people who are afraid to come forward.”
“Many people receiving assistance choose not to engage politically because they don’t believe that things will change for the better, but what they don’t realize is that things can always get worse,” added BRAG member Annette Haché.
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