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Kendall Worth: My experience attending a recent Community Services information session on income assistance

Kendall Worth. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Over the past month or so Community Services once again held consultation / information sessions to inform the public of changes that are happening in the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) program.

The one I attended did not have a very good turnout, however, I have been told that several sessions they had throughout the province were well-attended. Some sessions had better turnouts then others.

My general advice to any income assistance recipients who might be reading this story is, “don’t get your hopes up that a better system is coming soon.”  Basically we heard nothing new.

  • A standard household rate with a 2% increase for some recipients and 5% for others.
  • There was talk about improving social inclusion and employment support services
  • According to bureaucrats annual reviews are not going to go away.
  • The new work incentives were talked about at the information sessions.
  • Nothing is being done to address the issue of special diets, however they are still committed to looking at and possibility revising the medical form.

One of the questions I asked was  “is there anything being done to improve client-caseworker relationships?”

“The Department is going to be taking a new approach starting soon and this new approach is something the department has never done before,”  I was told. She was vague on details as to what this new approach is but she did add “this approach will include better communication between head office staff and caseworkers.” Then her final words were “This brand new approach should address this issue of client/caseworker relationships.”

So the sad truth is that we learned nothing we do not already know. This is sad news, especially for those in the community who depend on income assistance. Since elected six years ago the government kept telling Nova Scotians “we are reforming the system. Yet the reality is people are still having problems with the system. Every time someone in the community approaches the bureaucrats about problems they are having with their caseworker and not getting approved for certain allowances, they tell the clients “we do not have the authority to intervene between you and your caseworker.”

I personally felt that attending the information session was just a waste of our time. The experience confirmed what I wrote earlier in the Nova Scotia Advocate: Why talk when nobody listens? Benefits Reform Action Group halts discussions with Community Services.

Also this article here, Word on the street is things are getting tougher for people on income assistance, illustrates problems that just don’t go away. To this day nothing is being done to address the following problems I describe in the article:

  • Clients have once again been called in to get their cases reviewed by their caseworkers in an aggressive and disrespectful way.
  • Especially clients who do not bring advocates to their review for support have been treated by their caseworkers with disrespect.
  • Through word of mouth I hear about angry doctors no longer responding to caseworkers. This is exactly what happened to me back in 2013 as well.
  • I heard one story where someone who qualified for $535.00 shelter allowance for the longest time, her shelter allowance suddenly got reduced to $300.00.
  • I even heard in the community that a number of income assistance clients who lost their special needs allowances were not able to go through the appeals process.

I heard nothing at the information session that suggests these issues are being taken seriously during this transformation.  

I made suggestions in two other stories I wrote for the Nova Scotia Advocate. The first one is Why I support an annual guaranteed income, where I explain why a guaranteed annual income is the way to go. And in “Raise the income assistance rates, for the sake of our dignity, I calculate the amount they really need to raise the rates by to help people live a better life.    

Whether they are are even looking at what I talked about in these stories remains a mystery.

Lets hope a better system is coming.

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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One Comment

  1. I called the local offices Halifax and Dartmouth to find out about these meetings and neither office knew about them.The Halifax office referred me to the Dartmouth office because I told them a meeting was held in Dartmouth . Happy

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