featured Poverty

Tim Blades at the Province House rally: End the child support clawback for single mothers on welfare

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Anti-poverty activist and Nova Scotia Advocate contributor Tim Blades addresses protesters in front of the Nova Scotia Legislature on Tuesday February 27. “Single parents are still being forced to interact with an abusive ex due to the child support clawback policy.”

Good day everyone.

My name is Tim Blades and I the co-chair of the Child Support Clawback Action Group.

For those of you who don’t know, single parents on Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) have their child support clawed back 100%. What this means is that if you are a single parent on welfare in Nova Scotia, and you receive child support from an ex, you do not get a dime of it. Either the child support money is sent directly to the Nova Scotia department of Community Services, or the parent receives the money, in which case, the amount, dollar for dollar, is deducted from the welfare recipient’s monthly cheque.


While neither option is good – How can we call it “child support” when the money doesn’t
support a child?–problems are rampant with the second option. In 2016, I wrote an article for the Nova Scotia Advocate with the help of Jackie Torrens. In the article, Jackie explains how Community Services would deduct the money from her cheque, even when her ex didn’t pay. In cases like this, the welfare client has to make attempts to procure payment from the non-custodial parent. As Jackie wrote, this is not only a further financial burden for the parent; it can also put the welfare client in a position where they have to deal with an ex who was abusive (in her case, physically abusive). As Jackie writes, “It brought him more into my life and my baby’s life. We needed less of him, not more.”

Recently, some colleagues and I have been canvassing a petition, calling for the end of this cruel policy. This petition will be introduced to the Nova Scotia Legislature. I have learned some things, going door-to-door with this petition, and other things were merely reaffirmed. Situations similar to Jackie’s, which happened in the 90’s, are still going on today. Single parents are still being forced to interact with an abusive ex due to the child support clawback policy. Sometimes, the ESIA recipient simply doesn’t know where the ex is. In these cases, people that I have spoken to have mentioned that Community Services constantly contacts them and pressures them to find their ex, even an abusive ex, to procure child support that will just go to Community Services anyway. How is a welfare recipient, who lives 30-60% below the poverty line, supposed to find their ex? Your guess is as good as mine.

Nova Scotia has the highest rate of child poverty in the Atlantic Provinces (1 in 5 children in mainland Nova Scotia; 1 in 3 children in Cape Breton). 50% of food bank users are ESIA recipients, many of whom have children. Last year, Community Services funded Feed Nova Scotia to the tune of $12,000, less than one percent of Feed Nova Scotia’s operating budget. Children who live in poverty often struggle in school, or become sick. I can say that because I was a child on the system, and I struggled in school, while also developing some physical and mental health issues, some of which still exist to this day.

The Nova Scotia Government classifies the Child Support that a welfare recipient receives as “unearned income”. While canvassing the petition, I met one lady who felt insulted by this classification as the word “income” implies that she is working for her ex by raising their child. I’m so glad that she said that, because that never would’ve occurred to me, and I think she’s right. It is insulting, and calling it “unearned” just makes the insult all the more painful.

And what about the non-custodial parents? This clawback takes away their moral and financial right to support their children because the money does not support their children.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative reports that between healthcare, crime, and lost productivity, poverty costs Nova Scotians between 1.5 and 2.2 billion dollars annually. The CBC recently reported that ending the clawback would cost the province 5.1 million dollars annually. I say having the child support clawback is costing single parents on the welfare system, their children, and the entire province of Nova Scotia so much more.

I will end with this fact; Community Services ended the 2016-2017 year with a surplus of 2.4 million dollars.

The Child Support Clawback Action Group invites you to please sign our petition.

Thank you.

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  1. It’s an unbelievably punative system that seems to have been designed to keep you under once you fall that low. They also claw back CPP and any earnings over (I believe) $150 a month, even if the only work you can get is part time. And if you happen to get a job or a sum of money, you are not allowed to come back for assistance until they would have paid you that amount, ie you are expected to live on a social assistance level if your situation is still precarious and you may need more assistance in the near future. It’s a demoralizing and mean system that has to change, especially as more people will be losing work to technology that replaces workers, unemployment rates increase and less people are able to access EI. When are we going to really take a serious look at guaranteed annual income? It would remove stigma and give people some sense of control and belonging to ‘normal’ society. Those who have had no experience of this system in their family have no idea how depressing and un-motivating this type of existence is. It’s far more complicated than just “pulling up your socks and getting a job”. But I think that outdated, paternalistic and privileged point of view is still behind the policies that our governments adhere to.

    1. You are so right on every word you have said. I hate being on disability, but even worse I hate having to try to live on the money rates of the 1970’s that they seem to “give” us to live. I worked for over 20 years until a 90 year old man smashed into the back of me. How did he get insurance and why would the government allow him to legally get behind the wheel of a car. Their ability to focus at 90 is not there as well as his reflexes are slower. So thank you to the Nova Scotia government for ruining my life and having to deal with you as my “BOSS” for the rest of my life. BY THE WAY I DEMAND A RAISE AND RESPECT FOR EVERYONE WHO ARE ON DISABILITY, “BOSS”!!!!

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