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Kendall Worth at Province House rally: Raise income assistance rates and stop micromanaging our lives

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Kendall Worth is a tireless anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.  This is the speech he delivered yesterday afternoon on the occasion of the Nova Scotia Rise Up rally at Province House.

So anyway, here we are again talking about the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) program offered through the department of Community Services. Sine this liberal government has come to power in 2013, they have been promising an ESIA reform. According to the Nova Scotia government the end results of this transformation is supposed to make things better for the lives of those of us who have no choice but to depend on this system.

Kendall at the February 27 Province House rally. Photo Robert Devet

Instead, things have gotten worse for ESIA recipients on the ground. We saw very little changes happening.

So anyway I am here today speaking on behalf of Benefits Reform Action Group, or BRAG. Our group is a group that advocates making changes to the ESIA system.

ESIA clients lives are negatively affected for the following reasons:  

  • Decisions are being made by caseworkers in clients’ cases that are negatively affecting their lives. If they do not attend their annual reviews or if they do not get their taxes done on time they may be cut off. Not receiving an Income Assistance check can lead to inability to pay rent, and pay bills. This can result into ESIA recipients getting their power cut off and eviction from their apartments.
  • The allowance of  $810 (meaning up to $535 for shelter and $275 personal) before approval of any special needs allowances speaks volumes of why EISA clients cannot live life with dignity, the same as ordinary people. Living in poverty adds barriers to socialization which leads to effects on health and participating in day to day living activities.
  • Under this current system caseworkers are required to know a large amount of a client’s personal information at annual reviews. Examples of this information case workers require include banking statements, rent stubs, power bills, medical information, and more. For someone with mobility issues, it is difficult to get around and even to get those documents.
  • There is a lot of red tape involved under this current system of ESIA for clients to get approved for special needs (health-related) funding. The current system makes client’s and their doctors feel that more information than necessary is required for approval of special needs funding.   
  • Overall the system promotes its clients to feel social isolation in their day to lives. The system does not cover the cost of places like fitness centres and registration fees for social programs for it’s clients.
  • Furthermore it negatively affects clients health and in a lot if not in many cases causes relationships and family to deteriorate.

So far to this point in my speech I have touched on the general realities of the system.  In Nova Scotia we need a system where the allowances amounts are enough for clients to live on. This overall ESIA system needs to be changed. Allowance amounts need to be increased.    

Also the current system does not support those who wish to get off it, but rather penalizes them for working and keeps them at poverty level. As much as I agree that the system does need to be there for persons with disabilities the questions is “what about people on the system that do not have disabilities?”

Whereas those same able-bodied-ESIA clients cannot get approved through their caseworkers for the telephone allowance, meaning they cannot afford to provide phone numbers where they can be reached when filling out job applications and put on resumes.  Also it needs to be understood that a lot of income assistance recipients cannot be employed in the regular labour Market due to their disabilities, both mental and physical.      

One way the system does not support those who want to get off the system is the fact that the telephone is treated as a special need by the system. I happen to know some able bodied persons who receive income assistance who cannot get jobs only because they cannot afford phones. Also it is downright difficult to get accepted into the Career Seek program.  It boils down to saying “As much as a lot of ESIA clients cannot work because of their disabilities let’s not forget these ESIA recipients who want to work and want to contribute to society.

Overall raising the rates and making systemic changes to the ESIA system will promote better self-worth and better quality day to day living for ESIA recipients.  Also raising the rates will potentially get ESIA recipients out of social isolation.  

Let the government know that we need an increase in social assistance rates now, in this budget. Visit https://socialassistancereformns.weebly.com/campaigns.html for a sample letter. Email: budget@novascotia.ca Twitter: @NSFinance

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