featured Poverty

Lives on welfare: Three stories about annual reviews and a disrespectful caseworker

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In the past few days I had coffee with three people, all women, who have three things in common: they’re on social assistance, they share the same (unpleasant) Community Services caseworker, and the thought of their annual review makes them terribly nervous.

Oh, and they all feel nobody at Community Services wants to listen to their concerns, so make that four things in common.

When I got together with these income assistance clients for coffee, they told me their stories. They suggested I write an article in the Nova Scotia Advocate about their situations. 

They have asked not to be identified in the article, so I am going to introduce them as person A, person B, and person C. Just like most who are on income assistance, they are scared to come forward.

All three happen live in the Clayton Park/ Lacewood Drive area of Halifax, and all three of them pay more rent than the $535 to $620 monthly shelter allowance Community Services allows.   

Person A

Person A  is a single mom. Her rent is $750 a month for her two bedroom apartment plus lights. She uses her living room as her own bedroom so the kids can each have their own rooms.  She lives with OCD, also known as impulse control disorder. This is one area where I can relate to her case, as I have that disability myself.

A person with that disability can only handle part-time work, because of the stress that is involved with holding down a full time job. She did work a full time job in the past but had to quit because she found could not handle stress well while at work. Form my own experiences with OCD I was not surprised. Anyway, she told me gets a total of $895.00 a month on her income assistance cheque.

The father of her kids does pay her child support, which gets deducted from her income assistance allowance at 100%. This reminds me of a story Tim Blades wrote: Time to end child support clawback for parents on welfare.

Person B

She told me that as a kid she had been diagnosed with a learning disability and ADHD.  She also told me that she has issues with lifting over a certain amount of weight and that is a barrier to employment. She is currently getting medically tested to find out if she might have Crohn’s disease.  

She gets a standard $535.00 shelter allowance for her rent and $275.00 for her personal allowance. Those are the same allowances that anyone in Nova Scotia on Income assistance is entitled to. Her rent for her one bedroom apartment is $600.00 a month plus lights.

Currently $25 is deducted from her income assistance cheque to pay off an overpayment. She did say that it will be paid off in a few more months. However until that overpayment is paid off she is only getting $785 per month.

She cannot get a transportation allowance through her caseworker. A volunteer organization in her community gives her a donation of bus tickets so she can attend medical appointments with her specialist.  

Person C

Person C mentioned to me that she has anxiety and is mildly autistic.  She pays $695 for her one bedroom apartment plus lights. She cannot handle immediate relationships. She spends anywhere from 50% to 90% of her time alone, which is how she prefers things.

She does do volunteer work two days a week. However her caseworker will not give her bus tickets to travel to and from her volunteer work. She has to take $20.00 out of her personal allowance to cover her bus tickets to get to her volunteer work.

Worried about rising rents

Something all three of them told me is that they want to stay in the Clayton park/Lacewood Drive area of Halifax.  They mentioned to me that they have heard from their neighbours and people in the community that landlords are trying to get the people on welfare out of that neighbourhood.

Also, they know that rents are going are going sky high In that neighbourhood and they are scared that eventually they’ll have to move  to a different and possibly less safe neighbourhood. Person A brought up about how Clayton Park is such a nice area of Halifax to raise kids. Keep in mind, person A is a single mom.

Very unpleasant caseworker

By coincidence all three have the same caseworker. All three describe their case worker as a stern type who behaves like she is laying down the law when their annual review takes place. This caseworker tries to silence them at their annual reviews, they say.  

What’s more, they feel that the caseworker is way too suspicious, and reinforces the stigma that many people on income assistance live with. Every single time they talk to her, whether it is at their annual review or over the phone, she asks them if they receive any support and care outside the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) system.

They are annoyed with their caseworkers having that attitude toward them. Also, all three of them told me that they get outright annoyed with having to prove their disability every year at their annual reviews when their medical condition/disability is chronic and will not change.

All this did not surprise me because in my community plus from my own experience I have heard similar stories and I can relate. They also shared with me that when they tried to complain to higher ups in the department of Community Services about the attitude of their caseworker, no one would listen to them.  They just get directed back to their caseworker by higher up staff.

Will the transformation solve these problems?

The current ESIA transformation taking place here in Nova Scotia is supposes to make life better for people income assistance. One question I raise in this article, Why I support a guaranteed basic income,  is “is the transformation going to stop these kinds of things from happening to clients?”

All this goes to show that  the government in Nova Scotia does not care about the real issues.  All three told me that if the system does not change soon then they do not know how they are going to handle attending annual reviews in the future.

This article here, All that’s wrong with the much feared annual review and how to begin to fix it,  speaks volumes on why the annual review process needs to change.

All we can do is hope that life will get better for everyone. One thing that is especially concerning is that told me that they cannot access professional advocates to attend their annual reviews with them. This is sad, because if they possibly could access professional advocates to attend with them then maybe the caseworker would treat them with more respect at their annual reviews.   

Something has got to happen soon.     

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  1. It is terrible that these three people have to endure such treatment. Sad to say, I am not at all surprised. I’ve seen, heard, and experience such myself. I, too, dread the annual review. It feels like a yearly fight to keep what little DCS seems to think that I deserve. It’s beyond ridiculous. When my conditions will never improve, barring Divine intervention, and it costs so much to stage the AR’s–never mind the special needs committee, and the appeals by reciepients when needed.
    All that I truly want at this point is enough to live on, to be able to serve God and His Anointed by making my small corner of the world slightly better (working around my recalcitrant physicality), and, in the end, to be left the heck alone by DCS. I speak so because I have oft heard similar sentiments from fellow IA recipients. Most just want the foregoing. Is that really too much to ask? If DCS/ESIA’s attitude is any indication, one might think so.
    As for the “transformation” making things better, etc., I do not think so. And it will not stop the sorts of things referenced in the article from taking place. In my experience, DCS has has demonstrated more than once, and more than enough, that one cannot trust them. I sincerely hope (and even pray!) that I am wrong, that these concerns are ameliorated, but I do not think so, based on years of experience.
    My present CW is pretty decent, she seems to care. Even at that, though, she, like so many of the seemingly few “good” ones who work for the Department, are stuck between a rock and a hard place, without enough support, never mind encouragement. Some have had their knuckles rapped for “being too nice.” But I have had experience with others, let us just say.
    God help, and God bless them. It’s an uphill battle.

  2. I have had employment support actually get in the way of employmment, including yelling win the old days when Eisa offered answering services, one day I was doing an interview and the worker started screaming and refusing to doallow a second intercview in other cases the whole employment services were a joke, instead of using qualified placement agencies it was a job for friends and relatives. ut is even worse in B.C. at least when I was there.

  3. The caseworker cannot believe on how little their clients survive on and have the focus that they are getting other supports.

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