featured Poverty

Kendall Worth: How income assistance recipients stumble through the month of December

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Through their job or volunteer work well-off people get invitations to Christmas parties and Christmas gatherings and dinners. 

For many people on income assistance those invitations can be a problem. 

Keep in mind that most financially better off people are married or have common law partners. This is often not the case with people living in poverty.

I personally know one social assistance recipient in my community who receives a free invite to a Christmas event which takes place every December.

Tickets for this event are either $30 or $20. But for this person it is free. It’s a case of knowing the right people. He happens to know the executive director of the not for profit organization who organizes this event through the volunteering he does.

It so happens that the past three years he attended the Christmas event. However, he felt uncomfortable being there. This also explains why he decided not to go this year.

This event takes place in a ballroom at a classy hotel with a place where you check you coats when you first walk into the ballroom.

There is cash bar included with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Beverages cost at least $3 per drink. A well-prepared three course turkey dinner is served as part of this Christmas event. This is included with the ticket, so no extra charge. Nice Christmas music is played during dinner.

Following the dinner there are first a few speeches, then a dance. The dance lasts a couple of hours.

This social assistance recipient usually is the only person present at the event without a partner.

He is told he can bring a guest, however it will cost $30 for his guest to attend. Keep in mind that $30 is something that no income assistance recipient can afford.

So of course income assistance recipients feel they have to turn down those invitations. It is not hard to figure out why.

Dinner and dancing is what takes place as part of this event. Dinner and dancing are examples of the type of fun that financially better off people, especially married and common law couples, sometimes love to do. Dancing is a pretty relaxing activity.

When the person who gets this invite has attended this event in the past, he felt socially lost. There is no opportunity for him to get to get to know the people of this organization.

Also he finds that he is the only person in attendance at this Christmas event who does not have either a guest/date, a common law partner, or a spouse to accompany him.

Other income assistance recipients get these invites as well. However, they say that they too feel socially lost, and others tell me they just turn down the invitation.  

They tell me that they wish they could just sleep the month of December away. It’s not because they don’t like Christmas, it’s because of all the things like this, that become complicated just because you are poor.


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  1. Kendell, when I was at my most financially insecure, I would turn down invitations to pot luck dinners because I knew I could not afford the ingredients to bring a dish that would be up to the food ‘standards’ of the other people attending. I really didn’t need to see people rejecting my dish of food as it was not made from ingredients that I could not afford. But I would have loved to tasted other people’s dishes. It was very isolating.

  2. The social isolation and the exclusion of the poor in this season are visible everywhere. I heard about a couple who couldn’t afford to have a guest — an adult or even a child’s playmate — stay for dinner, because the food had to be so strictly rationed.

  3. I pay no attention to Christmas but it’s not because of poverty. I just have no interest in the holiday so, fortunately, I don’t feel left out. I empathize with those who do, of course. What really aggravates me is early January when people ask, “So how was your Christmas?” I admit I’m not very friendly in my response, which is something like, “I live in abject poverty so it’s just December 25th, same as the other 364 days of the year.” Now I don’t say that to express self-pity that I can’t participate in the festivities. I say it because it ticks me off that everyone is so clueless in assuming we all are able to have a big dinner and buy gifts for others. Equally annoying is when the Access-A-Bus drivers ask me if I’m doing my Christmas shopping when they drop me off at Walmart or the Halifax Shopping Centre, should I happen to book a trip in December. “I don’t have money to buy things for Christmas. I’m just getting my usual stuff.” Geesh, if I could afford presents, I’d be taking a cab, not the bus!

    1. Case in point…AAB driver who dropped me off at Sobeys on December 13: “Are you all ready for Christmas?” Me: “I don’t have any money so it’s just like any other day.” AAB driver who picked me up from Sobeys on December 27: “Did you enjoy the holidays?” Me: “Same as any other time of year. Don’t have any money so I don’t do anything different.” AAB driver: “You didn’t even have a turkey?” Me: “Good grief, no. That would cost about 25% of my food budget for an entire month.”

  4. Very timely story. I truly don’t know how many Nova Scotians even manage to stay warm and with any lights at this time of year – utilities are so exorbitant! Add unexpected year-end costs and medicines for winter illnesses and what’s left over to eat let alone buy gifts. This really makes me mad as there is no real reason for poverty – it is a man-made invention : Us vs Them.

    I prefer to see the world as an ecosystem where everyone and everything is interconnected. What happens in one area affects us all.

    Trump and other right-wingers may rage about “globalists” but seen from afar our globe is actually a tiny speck in space that is a host for us all – for now – with some taking far more of our share of food, water, air, physical space, and energy, than others.

    Unless we see that we are actually connected and that our fate is intertwined, all humankind is destined for abject poverty. And it’s all of our own making.

    It’s the attitude of entitlement and privilege that first needs to change. We need to educate society that we must look after each other.

    There is no Us and Them.
    There is only US.

  5. I am in between…as a lot of times in my life. I have an apartment and some part time work, for which I am grateful, but due to an illness, am on CPP as I can no longer work full time in my previous career. I can’t get EI (all used during cancer treatment) and CPP doesn’t even cover rent. I am educated (by didn’t complete my BA so don’t qualify for things I would love to do…) Needless to say, I am frustrated… I write this in hopes people will read and understand that it’s not only the very poor that dislike this time of year…I have been a single parent and now am a single person…seen both sides. People also get trapped in the middle… so …be kind, smile and don’t EVER make assumptions based on someone’s clothing or appearance… you have no idea what goes on in their lives. I am glad invitations are extended but didn’t know and didn’t think that kindness would make people uncomfortable..not sure how or if this could be changed. I know I have not gone to social functions if they were at a bar or restaurant because there are times I can’t afford it…so yeah I get it.
    PS- why do you want to make me and others who are in a position sort of like this uncomfortable by asking for our names? All I wanted to do was educate and point out others can and are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

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