Representatives from 13 community and anti-poverty groups are calling on the Nova Scotia government to immediately increase income assistance rates and to hold a consultation to develop future improvements.
“Our government needs to recognize that they’ve created, by design, huge gaps in services and income support,” said Christine Saulnier, director at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Nova Scotia.
Saulnier was one of three speakers at the event held at Dalhousie Legal Aid Service on Thursday.
Fiona Traynor, of Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, says income assistance rates have been static for the last three years while the cost of living continues to increase.
Traynor says although the province has previously said there would be no increase until the 2019-20 budget, the need exists now.
According to the province’s income assistance website, someone living alone can, depending on some factors, earn a maximum of $575 per month split between shelter and personal allowances.
The activists said the poverty line for a single individual is $19,125 a year — far greater than the $6,900 someone would get from the government.
“It doesn’t matter what poverty line you use, the amount of basic income assistance provided to the majority of those who are receiving income assistance from the government is absolutely inadequate,” Saulnier said.
People are having to spend their personal allowance amounts on shelter, she added.
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Another challenge is that many people supported by income assistance can’t afford cars and are forced to use public transit. However, homes near a public transit route can often be expensive.
“It’s very clear to us that the rates need to increase in order to provide a social safety net,” said Megan MacBride, one of the speakers and a social worker at North End Community Health Centre,
Premier Stephen McNeil won’t commit to increases in next spring’s budget, but he says the province is looking at how best to use the money it has to support those in the most need.
“The minister and her department have been working very hard on how do we make sure when we make adjustments in the way we deliver income assistance that it’s impacting those how need our support them most. We’re going through the budget process right now, that would be one of the issues the minister and her department would assess,” said McNeil.
— With files from the Canadian Press