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Why talk when nobody listens? Benefit Reform Action Group halts discussions with Community Services

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Benefits Reform Action Group (BRAG), of which I am a member, is getting a bit tired of talking to Community Services bureaucrats and politicians. We’re glad that CASAR, a coalition of over 30 anti-poverty groups province-wide, now speaks on our behalf.

The author in front of the Gottingen Street Community Services office in 2016. Photo Robert Devet

Here is an example of why that is.

In September last year we wrote a letter to the Community Services Standing Committee to talk about the often useless and stressful annual reviews that people on social assistance need to endure time and time again. The Standing Committee is made up of politicians of all three parties.  

We wrote how people are humiliated and asked how much money they have in their pockets, doctors’ opinions are being questioned by caseworkers even when disabilities are chronic, and altogether it is very stressful.

By the way, I have written about this myself quite a bit. Here is one such article: All that’s wrong with the much-feared Annual Review, and how to begin to fix it.

The committee passed our letter on to Kelly Regan, who is the minister of Community Services, and in November she responded.  She basically told us we were wrong, and that the department was working hard to make things even better.

So we wrote another letter, patiently explaining how no, we were right, and how even Kelly Regan’s own Deputy Minister agreed with many of the facts that we presented.

After that, the Standing Committee in yet another letter said we should talk with Brandon Grant, an executive director at the department, who would then report back to the committee.

In a letter we sent earlier this week we said no thanks. This back and forth has been going on long enough, and we have told Brandon Grant about these problems multiple times already.

From now on we want to funnel these discussions through CASAR, the coalition of some 30 anti-poverty groups. CASAR’s message to the department is simple: start real consultations and really listen to what people on social assistance are saying.  

Anyway, here is the letter we wrote to the secretary of the Standing Committee.

Dear Ms Thompson,

We had our monthly BRAG meeting today as per my last emails. We had a discussion about the dates that Brandon offered. The BRAG membership has decided that, as signatories to the Community Agenda for Social Assistance Adequacy and Reform (as per the document released December 12, 2017) that our concerns are being voiced through that coalition. We believe that the ESIA transformation needs to have a more robust consultation and collaboration.

Regarding the letter that was sent to Mr. Grant through the Standing Committee, we believe that the issues that we raised in this letter are extremely important and that we have raised them multiple times with Mr. Grant to no avail. This is one of the main reasons that we have joined with over 30 other groups to form the Community Agenda for Social Assistance Adequacy and Reform. We believe that through a real consultation process, Mr. Grant and the transformation team will be able to better understand the issues around Special Needs and Annual Reviews. There are multiple members of BRAG who act as spokespeople of the Community Agenda for Social Assistance Adequacy and Reform.

If Mr. Grant has specific questions about the letter from BRAG we encourage him to send them to the group through me and they will be discussed and responded to as needed. BRAG understands that the Standing Committee is expecting a report from Mr. Grant about his meeting with BRAG. BRAG will inform the Standing Committee of our position and refer them to the Community Agenda for Social Assistance Adequacy and Reform.

Kendall Worth is a tireless anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

Like and follow the Benefits Reform Action Group (BRAG) on Facebook.

For more info on CASAR:

Visit the CASAR website
Email: socialassistancereform.ns@gmail.com
Like CASAR on Facebook
Follow CASAR on Twitter

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  1. The sad reality is that the whole transformation is a red herring. DCS does not care for the people who are using Income Assistance program for genuine reasons such as real long term disabilities. They deliberately lie, mislead and put every road block in the way they can think of to frustrate clients so they quit complaining. You can not make a complaint because they then have the caseworker treat you like crap and then they look for every cent they can take away using their discretionary power to send the message to people to shut up or you will be punished. They do humiliate people and have caseworks that have no training to deal with the public and are more interested in saving the department money than meet the real needs of the client they have. In our area mothers who are given Grocery Gift Cards from local women centers … if DCS finds out they deduct every cent from these women’s checks saying it is income! They steal from people using their cryptic policies that they themselves don’t even understand. I know one person who had a Anniversary card given to them and their friends put in 20 dollars and the gent happened to mention it in passing to caseworker and the caseworker took the money off their check. Disgusting! The DCS need to have the entire department gutted and redone using people who are real social workers that really give a damn about people. They take away people’s dignity and treat everyone they they are guilty of trying to cheat them. Recently in this area caseworkers told a client who has a mental disability that they could not have a support person present for a job assessment meeting even though they know this person is not employable and has medical doctors stating such. This person had their doctor write a letter about the meeting telling them they needed a support person due to the nature of the condition but denied them and told them if they did not meet alone they could lose their check! The person went the meet went bad and cause the person more trauma and when they asked the office for a letter to show that the policy says they can not have a support person. Since then no answer and now they took away her money for her phone. 34 a month. No help just more lies and punishment! They are the worst government department in NS with to much power and have to go!

  2. I agree thst something should be done. The workers mske you go to dr to get medical done snd say all you need for special diet us one thing wrong and we never got it. They should be cutting the stupid yearly reviews we have ours down here at our local hospital where people know what your there for nothing is discreet.

  3. I was harassed and bullied by a number of employee’s who work for management out of the department of facilities management at Dalhousie University. I had been referred by my physician to speak with a psychologist about a workplace incident which may have resulted in my suffering a preexisting condition. The psychologist explained to me then, out of concern for my mental health, that there is a systematic pattern of discrimination being practiced in Nova Scotia. I was told to get support from my Union rep in questioning had due diligence been undertaking following the accident. My union representative meet with me twice at a private location and asked me for information regarding a previous workplace grievance i had settled in a mediation herring along with the department of labor complaining about harassment. Upon my return to work i was meet with a very hostile environment which resulted in me suffering a flare up in my condition. I wanted to file a grevience but was denied the process. I had no choice but to go off on sick leave after being denied a short term disability claim based on the harassment which seemed to have already been escalating. Upon my second return to work, I was called into a meeting by management, threatened not speak about the behavior of the department, and told to go back to work, I did what i was told. The next day i did not go back to work and spoke with my physician. I received a letter from my employer stating that I would not be allowed to return to work. I was then contacted by the police, whom wanted me to meet down a dark pathway alongside a soccer field. I declined out of fear for life. This is how we are stigmatized (black male, mental health issues). After being denied my initial disability claim because of my condition along with the harassment, i somehow was approved. I agreed to have two physiological assessments preformed and it was recommended by my physiologist that i be given clear and concise written communication along with support if any other meetings were to occur prior to my return to work. Long term disability sent me a cheque for three months prior to my return. (I was due back September, they paid me for August, September, October). I received another phone call, enticing me to come on campus for a meeting while all the deniying me the right to have the emotional support while attending such as it had been stipulated in the psychologists report. No income November,December. Resigned from my position February, applied for EI, was denied after working for 9 years and was forced to go on social assistance. I did not want to live that kind of life, so i went back to school to take OH&S. I received a small allowance to help in support of doing so and was informed later by (DCS) I owe them. They now have garnished my income tax, which was all i had for income. Got a certificate, I have a physical disability, mentally, what they done in retaliation haunts me and im sure it will for life. No real practice of Occupational Health and Safety in Nova Scotia and if so, good luck being included within the elite group of industries. I now do temporary work, maybe 2 day’s a week if i get a call at all, sometimes having to wait weeks to get paid. Let’s talk about mental health and safety in support of safe places and communities. We need to drive fear out of the workplace and usher in a new culture of respect in order to move forward in this province.

  4. Another issue that is concerning to me is this: in coming October I and other tenants have to pay now 2.50 for laundry. Not bad you might say . For one wash and one day. Nope. 2.50 for one wash AND 2.50 for one dry. Yep .6.00 altogether for dirty socks and drawers!
    I will not being my laundry there! To add to this issue is that we are also low income and pension living folks.
    There are only 2 old and very small washers and 2 very old and small dryers. Oh and don’t overfill them because that one will be broke and not one person out of 23 separate apartments will be able to do laundry at all! Some people actually don’t do a dry in dryer. They prefer though( they have been told countless times by supers and managers and other tenants who care)to go slum style and hang there clothes over the balcony. They are still doing it! Talking about greed and highway robbery… the rich stealing from the poor!

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