featured Poverty

Lives on welfare: I am just a piece of paper with a number on it

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Nothing is ever simple when you’re on income assistance. Just ask Kate, a single mother. Michael, the elder of her two children, is a four-year old boy who has non-visible disabilities and is not yet fully potty trained.  

At this time Kate is fighting with the Department of Health about the care for her son, and with Community Services about the sudden removal of childcare support for her younger son. Oh, and the department wants her to go see her doctor, even though she has never claimed any disability. On top of that, just being on income assistance, just making ends meet and getting your caseworker to return your calls is a daily struggle.

Now Community Services has sent Kate a letter that it will no longer help pay for the boy’s diapers. A decision like that is devastating when getting by is a struggle. This is the story.


This started last year in the summer, when I was still getting a material allowance of $50 for my younger son. I was using that to help pay for Michael pull-ups. My younger son I could manage, the smaller sized pull-ups are not as expensive.

Without ever telling me, they took that $50 away. When I told my Community Services caseworker, she wanted to know exactly how many diapers I used, where I was buying them.Then they told me Michael used too many. I appealed that decision, and I won. We got approved for $86. I didn’t know that it was only for 6 months…

In February I had a phone call from my worker, she said I didn’t have to keep the receipts for the pull-ups anymore. Every month I had to provide these receipts, they didn’t believe me that I was buying them. I was like, finally, thank you, it takes a bit of the pressure off. And this receipt business, they see everything I’d buy, I’d go to Costco to shop, and everything we’d buy would be on the receipts. I hated that. Anyways, around that time I was told over the phone that it would be extended until August.

I went to a social worker I know through Michael’s hospital, and she wrote a letter that Michael still wasn’t fully potty trained, and that we still needed the department’s help with the diapers and the wipes.

Then this new caseworker stepped in. He called me a week ago Wednesday, he told me had some questions about that letter I sent him. I was in the neighborhood, and I went over. I shook his hand and I told him about the situation. He replied that he had to go talk with his supervisor. He said it was unheard of that Community Services paid for diapers and wipes for this long, looking at me like how dare you accept this money for these extra months. He said he would go talk to his supervisor and call me back.

I stopped thinking about about it because I didn’t hear from him. On Friday I called and I asked what was going on. He didn’t call me back, and I need to know what’s up. Somebody told me it would be for one more month. I left a message on his voicemail, saying, how dare you make a decision about our family and not even call us.

Then he called me two days ago. He apologized over the phone that he couldn’t remember why he was calling me. He said he had 200 other cases. I thought to myself, that is nice to know, I am a piece of paper with a number on it, thanks for that. I told him that I had been trying to talk to his supervisor.

Community Services wants me to apply for the Disability Support Program (DSP) or the Direct Family Support for Children (DFSC) program. Doctors who evaluated Michael told me that he will likely be denied, because his IQ is too high. Why set somebody up for failure? I started to cry. It is so upsetting.

I spend hundreds of dolars per month on pull-ups and wipes. There is also all the extra laundry. Some days I change his clothes four or five times. Michael is a very big boy. It is different each month. He is just a child. He is still learning.

As a family we don’t need this stress. These caseworkers make me feel me feel as if they’re paying for it, as if it’s coming out of their pay cheques. It’s driving me bonkers. I worked all my life, and I plan on working again.


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  1. It is deplorable that CS is equating disability with IQ (an outdated metric anyway). Disability is a spectrum, not all people with disability are cognitively impared. It also pisses my off to no end that the Minister for CS happily makes media statements that imply people on IA have mental health and addiction illnesses…but forget that the majority of IA recipients have physical disability and chronic illnesses. Shame on this government.

  2. That is a disgrace..To make this single mother go through hoops just to provide diapers for her child is both mean and degrading to her as a mother and more importantly as a human being….
    It is their mandate to HELP those needing their help….
    If they have too many cases and can’t keep their clients or their own special circumstances separate…Maybe they should consider another profession…..
    It seems to me that the social assistance program is missing one important aspect of their jobs. ……Its not the money or the strain that people put on the God almighty budget and their constraints…….
    It’s about having a heart and empathy by thinking there by the grace of God go I………..
    They are public servants not accountants………
    Do you’re jobs that you are mandated to do serve the public…Its not you’re job to be demeaning, insulting , or degrading to those people put in circumstances whereby they need help……

    Just do you’re job helping people that is you’re ONE AND ONLY JOB……..

  3. Community services is a unforgiving, desultory structure; hell bent on breaking the spirits of it’s recipients.
    I’ve fought them in the past with the issues my own son
    (Who’s now 21 and JUST moved out on his own) when he was a child.
    He needed a specialized dietary requirement and we received it when he was 4
    for all of 6 months (this was fine as I had returned to work so the cost wasn’t a big deal)
    Fast forward to 2012 and my son’s still only 14 and still requires the same dietary means
    and I’m now back to single parent hood without financial structure to maintain our lives
    as I had been (and I’ve worked for years) and I was told there wasn’t any proof in our
    past records in confirming his needs in regards to his dietary requirements.
    ACTUALLY had to take IA to court to get my file opened.
    I was able to prove the worker had excluded important files
    (I had Dr copies that had proof of being faxed) in order to prevent us
    from receiving the necessary funding, in the mean time while I was
    receiving schooling while juggling this, she cut off my bus pass to
    get to classes in fact preventing me from fulfilling my ESS requirements
    in a form of retaliation. ANYTHING to keep me down and IN MY place.
    When I complained to my worker about how my son’s diet can effect his
    health and jeopardize his well being landing him in the hospital again
    and would result in my not being able to continue with classes her
    words were: “You will do it or lose your funding” I was livid and yelled
    at her asking her how the hell she expected me to fulfill those expectations
    when she took my bus pass and if my son landed in the hospital I wasn’t going
    to leave him there alone. I asked her how she expected me to neglect my
    child if he was in the hospital, I didn’t want him to die there because of her
    actions and the response I got was

    “Not my problem, he’s just one less mouth to feed.”

    Needless to say I LOST it. NO WORKER should talk down to their client… however MANY do. They treat us like fodder. Save a buck so their checks can get bigger. Save money on the backs of the poor.

    Needles to say I went after her with both barrels. I got a hold of her supervisor and then the lawyer did her job.
    weeks later she was no longer employed and I got a new worker.
    No matter the fear of what a worker can do to you… remember Human rights come 1st…
    I work full time now. I have a great job but I will ALWAYS support and rally for those who need the help from IA.
    IA needs to stop making those who can’t always do everything feel like they are worthless, but with the changes that are being made, I’ll call it now. Mark my words they WILL find a way to prevent people from getting what the need ANYWAY they can.
    You can bet there will be more fights before this system is over hauled.

  4. Their is nothing surprising about anything I had read in this story. The Bureaucratic non-cents and systematic problems of Department of Community Services are what they are. The government is saying “things with ESIA are changing”. However changes are happening as slow as cold malaise and what we had seen with this being 4 years later is next to nothing.

    Sad to see that people are still experiencing the bureaucratic non-cents of ESIA.

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