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Kendall Worth: For many on social assistance moving back to rural Nova Scotia right now is a bad idea

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This story is about some income assistance recipients here in Halifax who have connections to or where they grew up in rural Nova Scotia and why they do not wish to go back to visit with relatives during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Some 11 income assistance recipients have contacted me within this past week or so. In addition to the regular stigma they experience in their lives they now have to deal with people who knew them from where they grew up in rural Nova Scotia, and who believe that they should temporarily move back.

Regular readers of the Nova Scotia Advocate may remember this story here, Why many income assistance recipients in Halifax want to forget their rural past.

Between myself, and the 11 others who this story is about we all agree: leaving the city and spending the next few weeks, months or longer in rural Nova Scotia while COVID-19 runs its course is not a good idea.

The supports in our lives are all here in the city. As a matter of fact, the people some of us go to for professional counselling agree with us 100%. 

Some of the 11 would rather not talk on the record. The following is about four income assistance recipients who have given me permission to call them Todd, Ted, Jannie, and Roger. Those are not their real names. 

“We still have to go to work during COVID-19 because where we work is essential,” they tell me.

See also: Self−employment clawbacks reduced for income assistance recipients, and that’s great news 

The thing is all four of these income assistance recipients, Todd, Ted, Jannie, and Roger, have jobs working at grocery stores. However their families believe that they are unemployed and are doing nothing. Just this past week their families contacted them and told them they want them to be living at home temporarily while this COVID-19 is happening. 

This is an example of stigma toward welfare recipients as well. The people from rural Nova Scotia automatically assume that they should be unemployed because they receive the welfare checks.

Another welfare recipient, who gave me permission to call her Donna, not her real name, brought up that perhaps in rural Nova Scotia people are not taking these public warnings about COVID-19 seriously. 

Donna’s part time job is cleaning at a public building which is still open for some business during COVID-19. She still has to go into work as well. Nonetheless she is being harassed to come back to her old home. 

She had an incident on Thursday of last week where someone she knows from where she grew up in Pictou County told her that people in that community are calling COVID-19 the biggest joke they ever heard. 

They believe that Stephen McNeil is just putting this on so he and his government can get a third term. Well, any educated person out there would know this is not true.

Just like this story I published in the Nova Scotia Advocate “Letter from Kendall Worth: Mind your own business!, we all agree that people should just mind their own business.

What if people get sick, and how are you dealing with isolation and the absence of libraries and all that, I asked.

“Those are bridges we will cross when or even if we come to them. For now leave us alone,” they say.

I will end this story by saying, “Let’s all, no matter who we are, obey the Public Health warnings, Hopefully the situation of COVID-19 will be over soon, and moving forward from today, let’s end the welfare stigma. 

As someone who grew up in rural Nova Scotia, I know that for me it is not a good idea to leave my place here in the city and spend time where I grew up. I have no plans to do that, is what I will say.

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

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