KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Last week I met with no fewer than ten income assistance recipients who had seen my recent articles on the Community Services policies regarding cohabitation. They are all couples. Three couples are in a common law relationship and the other two couples are married.
People are going to do what it takes to avoid social isolation, no matter what it takes, regardless of the obstacles Community Services may raise through its cohabitation policy, they tell me.
They recognize that social relationships are an integral and critical part of life. Peer rejection and social isolation in most cases is very common for people living in poverty. These people feel strongly that social isolation is exactly what the Community Services cohabitation policy encourages
They said their original reason for wanting to meet with me was because:
- They call it a human rights violation that are required to report to their caseworkers that they are in a common-law relationship or married and that their allowances are reduced as a result.
- After their shelter allowance got reduced to one single standard $535.00 one couple appealed and got denied at the appeal hearing.
- When they went to Legal Aid to take their case to the Supreme Court, they were advised not to do that.
- Then, when they went to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to launch a human rights complaint about this requirement, the Commission refused to consider it.
The entire group of ten wants to see a system of receiving income assistance where whether or not you are married or living in common law relationships is none of their caseworkers business.
We did the math of comparing what they were receiving on their income assistance cheques when all ten of them were living alone, and what they receive now. When you live in a relationship, the shelter allowance to live together as a couple is $535.00. Then each partner gets a $275.00 personal allowance.
Each of these ten couples is paying upwards of between $700.00 and 800.00 for rent in their one bedroom apartments. We figured out that on average they pay $727.00 for rent. I must note each of these couple live in their own apartments in various parts of the city. Therefore on average they all lose $194.00 from their income assistance cheques per month. As well, some lost special needs allowances they used to get while single.
“Now things are so much better, they say, no matter the money that they had to give up”
But there is more to this story than money. This is also about how these people creatively escaped social isolation as a result of being in a relationship. In many ways their quality of life improved. The reality is that they found solutions to many of their problems. They gained better social support in their lives.
One of these couples lives in an apartment building that has a common room and they use that room to get together to play games and do other social activities among themselves.
One person did not have a good relationship with her family, when she was single, and she would hardly talk to them. When her family found out she was no longer single they started acting willing to repair their relationship with her.
Another couple found that being in a relationship gave them the encouragement to try and get accepted into the Career Seek program and at present they are taking courses at the Nova Scotia Community College. These two commented that this was only a dream when they were living alone and socially isolated with no support.
Another person within that group gained part time employment through people he got to know through his common law partner.
So anyway, they all decided they were getting tired of depending on the soup kitchens and drop-ins for trying to get out in the community to have a life. They got tired of going to these places as a day to day activity.
Now things are so much better, they say, no matter the money that they had to give up.
These are examples of what could happen when people are in relationships. However, it seems the department of Community Services does not care about these things when it forces its restrictive cohabitation policies onto its clients.
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