We can no longer AFFORD poverty! (Conference Day 1)

Tonight I had the privilege of hearing some amazing people share their stories. I was so touched by their genuine humble attitude and willingness to share and hopefully open a few people’s eyes with their stories.

If only the room had been jam-packed with those whose eyes really need to be opened. The Stephen Harper’s who seem to believe it is okay to attempt to revive our economy on the backs of our poorest and most vulnerable.

As Senator Art Eggleton said today, if we cannot reach such people via morals, perhaps we can via economics. We can no longer AFFORD poverty. He said, that in order to achieve future prosperity, we must reduce today’s poverty. It costs us as a nation more to maintain people’s current state of poverty (which is what our current systems of social support are set up to achieve; side note: tragically when they are not working well, which is much of the time, they not only maintain, but entrap people in poverty) than it would if we invested in eliminating it. Which, by the way, our nation committed to doing by the year 2000, for children of our nation, in 1989.

Speaking at the event tonight and listening to the panel afterward were Ministers: More (Labour & Development) and Peterson-Rafuse (Community Services). I truly hope that they will remain in attendance at this conference to take in more of those shared experiences and really see the faces of poverty, like we saw tonight.

The people we heard from today shared 3 entirely different stories, yet their messages were the same.
Poverty must end.

Laura shared a story of when she was the struggling artist trying to make a go of it in life, and needing a hand up temporarily after losing a job. Then of the more mainstream therapist (herself, later in life) being sidelined by injuries that have left her unable to work a traditional job, or perhaps any job at all. She was forced to deplete every one of her assets before she could get help. Her RSP’s, her small savings, etc. So now, not only is she living in poverty, but she has no hope of getting out of it in the future.

As Laura pointed out tonight, poverty is not complex. (my sidebar: perhaps the “issue” of poverty may be). The state of poverty is not complex, it is very simple. People deserve to eat. People deserve to have safe potable water to drink. People deserve to have a safe place to call home. Another person said that all people in the world have a right to have enough to live. That they have the right to be allowed to live. Senator Art Eggleton shared a Statistics Canada finding that poverty reduces people’s life expectancy even more than Cancer.

Kimberly shared her story of being a young mom and victim of abuse choosing to become a survivor. She relied on social assistance to give her a hand up in her time of need, but has become entrenched in poverty. She went back to school to be able to provide a better life for her children and now has student loans equivalent to many people’s mortgage payments. She cannot afford a home for herself and her children.

Wayne shared a story of medical needs putting him in a position of indefinite dependance on the system, of the humility of being forced to “shop” for second hand furniture with an allowance from Community Services that requires other people to communicate about his needs, rather than allowing him to be empowered to care for himself.

The right to shelter and other survival needs should not come at the cost of someone’s dignity. Sometimes dignity is all a person has left. As Laura pointed out tonight we must start saying that “my value system does not include a person living like that”.

There was a little good news that came out of today’s events. Minister Peterson-Rafuse shared some important announcements with regards to changes to the service delivery design of Employment Support Income Assistance (ESIA): (*these are not verbatim and must be confirmed for accuracy) eye exams will be fully covered; benefits will still continue after a child turns “of age” if they are still a student living at home; the spouse-in-the-house rule has been changed so that an ESIA recipient’s benefits are not effected for one year after moving in with their partner (what happens after a year though Denise? We don’t really believe two poor people living together can lift themselves out of poverty simply by living together do we?); the total amount of assets an individual can have (rather than forced to deplete) will be doubled; supports will be based on individual needs; and the application process will be much less intrusive, asking only for Basic personal Information.

These are positive signs. As usual, they just aren’t enough. But these are important baby steps. I commend the Province of Nova Scotia for making steps towards a better quality of life for all of our citizens!

About Trish

family legacy curator, social justice advocate, blogger, amateur photographer, reader, cyclist, runner & swimmer, mom of two