featured Poverty

Kendall Worth: Lives on welfare – Meet Sarah

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This story is about an income assistance recipient who I met recently and asked me to write her story for the Nova Scotia Advocate.

Meet Sarah, not her real name but that is what she gave me permission to call her in her story.

As many of you regular readers of the Nova Scotia Advocate know, throughout my time of doing journalism my main focus is on things like fighting to change the welfare system in Nova Scotia. My stories include explaining how the current system of income assistance is damaging to the mental health and well being of income assistance recipients. Also, I write about how 80% of welfare recipients in Nova Scotia  live lives of loneliness and social isolation.

First let me explain a little about Sarah’s regular life on social assistance.

Sarah is 38 years old. She has lived with a learning disability her whole life and when she got older was diagnosed with OCD, mild anxiety disorder and Asperger’s. Also she was telling me that in her late teens they thought at one point that she had ADHD. 

She used to have a full time job doing cleaning and maintenance type work in a public building. She found that this type of work was too stressful and had to give that up. She gets $500 a month from CPP disability, but that money gets clawed back from her income assistance at 100%. 

She receives the $850 Community Services standard household rate for people living with disabilities, then she gets the special needs telephone allowance of $35 and $81 for three different special diets. She gets a housing subsidy which covers the remainder of her rent beyond $535. 

That means she has $315 left after rent, special diet and telephone is paid. That is $315 to pay her power bill and get groceries that are not covered in the special diet allowance. 

Not a lot of money to live on, all things considered.

While spending her days being cooped up in her apartment with no-one to talk to  and having no friends or family she even keeps in touch with, she calls her hobby of doing artwork her only friend. She spends her GST money and poverty reduction tax credit money on art supplies. She donates her finished art works to a local fundraiser once a year close to Christmas time.

In many stories I discussed how you must have someone with you when you show up for day surgery, or otherwise the treatment gets cancelled.

That was also Sarah’s problem.

In Sarah’s case I figured out a solution to get someone to volunteer to be the person who is going to accompany her to and from  the hospital plus stay with her while at the hospital to keep her medical treatment from getting cancelled.  It was one of the people I talked about here: Community comes to the rescue for three tenants facing huge rent increases.

So a happy ending to this story, but the broader issue remains to be addressed.

See also: Kendall Worth: Let’s find a solution for people living in poverty when they need day surgery

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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  1. So she only got that medical treatment because we’re lucky to have someone like you working so hard to do something about these ridiculous problems no one should have in the first place. This issue of needing someone to stay with you for 24 hours after certain procedures is a by-product of our overworked, underfunded health care system. In the good ol’ days, if you had been under anesthesia, you would stay overnight in the hospital. Nowadays, they want to kick you out ASAP so the bed can be used for the next person in the queue. They dumped the “nursing” care onto relatives and friends without a care in the world that some people, mostly those in poverty, have no family or friends to be the “nurse”. An exception should be made in that case.

    Very recently, an acquaintance of mine needed someone to be with him for 24 hours after a procedure but no one, including myself, was able to. I reminded him of the history I just described and that because of the pandemic, the hospitals were nowhere near capacity due to all the cancellations so he should ask if they would allow him to stay overnight. And it worked! They let him stay overnight. But now that they are starting to do more procedures again, I doubt that will be a possibility for much longer.

    Unless her phone bill is only $35, she should be getting more for that. They increased the amount they will pay for phone to $42, which is what I get. That is still less than my phone bill, and I have no extras like call waiting.

    My understanding is that CPP is clawed back 100% because it’s not income from employment and is a form of assistance. I presume she actually gets only $350 of the $850. The only party benefiting from anyone on provincial assistance getting CPP is the province because it means that in this case, it saves Nova Scotia $500 a month. I had to apply for CPP when I first applied for income assistance. Because I had been employed so little at that point, I would get nothing from the federal government, so my whole assistance is from ESIA.

  2. This is quite sad, that in canada there is not way more support for people who need it. There needs to be recognition that there is a minimum amount of income that is needed to pay for healthy food, transportation and some activities for those who experience this life situation

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