KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Although life gets more expensive by the day, the provincial government plans no raises for people on social assistance in this fiscal year This, I am told, is what DCS staff indicated to people in the budget lockup.
This is also confirmed in budget estimates released today, which do not mention social assistance increases, and shows no changes in the money allocated to the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) program overall.
No increases in basic allowance, shelter or special needs allowances means parents will continue to go to bed hungry in Nova Scotia.
Since the Liberals took office in 2013 the basic welfare rate was increased only once, by no more than $20 per month, an increment by now fully erased by inflation.
Shelter allowances have remained frozen since 2006. Single people get $300 per month for rent. A single person who lives with disabilities gets $535. Try to rent something anywhere in Nova Scotia for that measly amount.
Meanwhile, special needs allowances, intended to support people who require special diets or other medical supports, have not increased since 1998.
However, according to Community Services, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. It’s just that the tunnel is very, very long.
Standard household rates (meaning less bureaucracy), and reduced earning clawbacks are on the way, we are told, all as a result of the secretive transformation project the department has been engaged in since 2015.
But none of these things will happen until 2019-20, the Liberal response to an election survey on poverty issues explain. How much money people will gain, or lose, remains to be seen.
The devil is in the details. It all could easily turn into spin, a way to reduce departmental staff, and a way to further cut costs and push people into the workforce, even when that is inappropriate.
To do it right will require affordable but serious investments. The kind of investments that would not align well with the current desire to balance budgets at any costs.
And even more than money, it will require a government that truly wants to help people on social assistance to live a better life, a life with dignity, a life without food banks.
So far we have seen very little that suggests this is the case, and much to suggest the opposite.
The government must show that it is serious about addressing poverty in Nova Scotia. Raising the rates immediately would go a long way.
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