KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In a recent talk at a community meeting on welfare, Fiona Traynor, a community legal worker at Dalhousie Legal Aid raised the alarm about the state of income assistance in Nova Scotia. Cuts to allowances and an increase in poor bashing have her worried.
In that speech Traynor also called for a strategic push back against the Community Services welfare transformation initiative, something we are told will change the way income assistance is delivered, but that has otherwise been low on details. We talked with Traynor late last week to further explore these issues.
On the Community Services welfare transformation initiative, and how to fight back
There has to be a really strategic push back around this transformation process. We really need to get organized and force them to tell us exactly what their plans are. In the liberal election platform there is this talk about a standard household rate, but what does that mean, there is no definition except that it potentially means a combination of shelter and personal allowances. The platform is silent on what will happen to special needs allowances after the transformation, for instance.
They say that people will be better off under the new system. But again, what is their definition of better off? Under successive governments better off in terms of income assistance has always meant being off income assistance, and finding whatever work you can.
What you need to remember here is that we have an outgoing minister of Community Services who has poor bashed people throughout her entire term. In 2015 she said that a lot of people have been on Income Assistance for too long. She also says that a third of people on Income Assistance are work-ready. But what we know is that between 60% and 70% of the people who receive Income Assistance are disabled.
On the secrecy and the lack of input around the transformation process
What I am asking for is complete transparency in the transformation process. I am definitely not asking to be invited to yet another round of consultations with bureaucrats in Community Services who never give clear answers about what the future holds.
This lack of insight is causing great anxiety to the people I talk with who are on Income Assistance, and do not know what their future holds, do not know if they will still get special needs covered. I am asking to see the plan, even if it is a rough plan. I say, show it to the people on Income Assistance.
I strongly believe that Community Services and the government altogether need to listen to people on Income Assistance to get substantive ideas on how things need to change. People on Income Assistance know the system better than anybody else. We can have all these so called experts, including myself, talk about this as much as we want, but we are not the experts.
“People are constantly in a state of malnutrition”
The other thing to understand about the transformation is that it is happening while poor bashing and cuts to allowances are daily occurrences.
People living in poverty are one of the last bastions of people are denigrated and insulted with impunity. Throughout the discussions in the lead up to the election and in general day to day conversations poor people are put down and insulted. No one is calling the people who say these things to task. That is something that doesn’t get any kind of attention.
In my daily work advocating for people on Income Assistance and representing them during appeal board hearings, I see more and more, at least over the last two years, that people’s basic needs and special needs are being cut to the bone.
People are constantly in a state of malnutrition, literally. And in a state of unstable housing because they don’t know if they will be able to pay their rent, a state of continual debt to Nova Scotia Power.This is happening more and more. And remember, we are already talking about people who are at if not below subsistence levels, and the little they get is being whittled away, month after month. It is a crisis.
We don’t need another blueprint. You have to raise the minimum wage, and you have to raise the rates
The Liberal platform also announces a $20 million, four-year Blueprint to End Poverty in Nova Scotia. But the province doesn’t need yet another blueprint to end poverty in Nova Scotia. In 2009 (then premier) Rodney MacDonald released a poverty reduction strategy, and we’re no better off, nothing came out of it.
Why do we have to put as a province devote another $20 million toward a strategy to end poverty in Nova Scotia? We already have enough reports. And people for whom poverty is a lived experience have told the government what to do. You have to raise the minimum wage, and you have to raise the rates.
Until we are willing to follow up on those recommendations, and dedicate that $20 million to these ends we are not going to end poverty in this province.
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