Last week, the Department of Community Services shared details of the forthcoming Employment Support and Income Assistance transformation. Two details in particular were highlighted in the news: Income Assistance recipients will be able to keep more of the income they earn if they are working, and basic support rates will increase by 5 per cent. Both of these changes will come to light in 2019-20. As an organization that supports thousands of Nova Scotians who are struggling – many on Income Assistance – we are encouraged by part of this news.
Deputy Minister Lynn Hartwell described the changes as the most fundamental transformation in the department in decades. We appreciate their commitment to get it right, and understand the requirement of an adequate timeframe to make it possible. Reducing the clawbacks of earned income for those who are working is good news, and it comes as a direct result of conversations the department had with people in first-voice focus groups.
But only 35 per cent of the department’s caseload is close to the labour market, which means the announced changes provide little hope for Nova Scotians on Income Assistance who are unable to work for a variety of reasons like long-term disability or mental health challenges. A 5 per cent increase to their basic allowance will not have a meaningful impact. We hope the department’s plans and recommendations include this group of Nova Scotians on Income Assistance, and that government will dig deeper and commit the necessary funding to meet their basic needs and restore their dignity.
A study published January in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that shifting even a small amount of health care dollars to social programs like income assistance, housing, child care, and early childhood education could create significant health benefits for everyone. A social welfare program where Nova Scotians can adequately meet their needs is not just critical to those relying on the support, but critical to the overall health of our province.
We need to educate ourselves on the realities of our social welfare program and the benefits of prioritizing the transformation. Tired stereotypes and damaging misconceptions are preventing progress. There are brave Nova Scotians raising their voices about the struggles they face every day on Income Assistance. Listen to their stories. The wheels of change turn achingly slow when you’re struggling with a day-to-day existence, and 2019-20 is an eternity away. Show your support. Reach out and see what you can to do help. Help shift the conversation. Light a fire under your elected official. Tell them you support a bold transformation of the Employment Support and Income Assistance program that restores dignity for all Nova Scotians.
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