I will begin by mentioning that some of you may remember me from speaking at last year’s Labour Day rally.
When I was asked to be speaker at today’s May Day rally, first I had to do some research into the differences between Labour Day and May Day. My research showed that May Day is, first, not a holiday like Labour Day and, second, Mayday involves more activism than Labour Day.
In my speech on Labour Day I touched on how the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) program through the Department of Community Services doesn’t allow its recipients to live life and be a part of their community due to keeping people in poverty.
My main message tonight is the fact that a more secure form of income security needs to be available, whether it is through the ESIA program or somewhere else. This security is needed for when people lose jobs and as an available source of income for persons with disabilities. It is all about having a safety net available for people to pay rent, pay bills, and buy food and live a normal life.
My reason for speaking at these rallies is because I am with the Benefits Reform Action Group. We are fighting for our first voice members who are ESIA clients. They have the right for their voices to be heard the same as everyone else.
Many income assistance recipients cannot work because of their disabilities. Some people are able to work part-time but are not able to pursue full-time employment because of their physical or mental challenges.
For all Nova Scotians to have respect for each other, it would be ideal to have a standard household rate. Right now people are receiving different amounts based on how the caseworker interprets the policy.
Speaking at any these rallies is all about fighting for people who rely on that income assistance system for receiving an income to live on, to get treated with the same respect from society as anyone else.
Since my speech on Labour Day, we who advocate to reform the ESIA system, have seen evidence hat an ESIA Transformation in Nova Scotia really is happening.
Here are some highlights:
- As of August 1, the Child Support Clawback from Income Assistance checks is stopping.
- As of October 1, the amount of earnings that Income Assistance recipients are allowed to make without it getting clawed back is increasing.
- The Government is publicly talking about the Standard Household Rate coming in effect in 2019/2020 in which all ESIA recipients will receive the same amount of money.
- Government officials within the department of Community Services have been meeting with community groups who are fighting for change in the system.
I will not argue that those are all signs a change for the better is coming. If things will really get better in the lives of ESIA recipients after the transformation is unclear. It is scary what the real outcome may be. What we do know is the fact that the government is saying transformation will be ongoing even after the above changes I had mentioned are introduced.
We also know that when the standard household rate comes into effect, the government is saying the increase is only going to be 2% for those who are employable and 5% for all others. That is not enough. These days, when you look at the cost of rent, power bills, food and other living expenses, people need much more than that.
In an earlier article for the Nova Scotia Advocate I suggested $2500 a month. That amount would be ideal for making persons with disabilities feel like they have the right to live in the community – plus, solve a lot of other problems people on income assistance are having with living a normal life.
In conclusion, all we can do is continue to fight and hope that things will get better as time goes on, in the day to day lives we live.
Kendall Worth is a tireless anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.
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