NS budget does not increase income support rates, shocking anti-poverty advocates IG News

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Nova Scotians who receive income support, upsetting social sector working professionals, will not see any increases in the coming year, according to the latest budget.

Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, said that freezing income support rates for the second year in a row in a time of high inflation will lead to “more desperation, more demand, more need for services that we are unable to provide.”

The budget shows $14.2 billion in revenue and $14.4 billion in expenditures, with a deficit of $278.9 million. Most of the spending — $6.5 billion, or 45 percent of all government spending — will go toward health care projects.

But Stratford said making sure people have the income they need to meet their basic needs will have a positive impact on their health.

“We’re all here talking about the premier’s mandate to fix health care,” Stratford told reporters at Province House in Halifax. “There is nothing in this budget that addresses the social determinants of health, which significantly reduce the demand for health care.”

Advocates note that economic instability contributes to poor health around the world.

high poverty rate

According to information collected by Statistics Canada in the 2021 census, Nova Scotia’s poverty rate of 9.8 per cent was the highest in Canada in 2020, with the same rate recorded in British Columbia. The national poverty rate was 8.1 percent.

Opposition leaders Zach Churchill and Claudia Chander both told reporters they were concerned about not increasing income support.

Churchill said, “They are stopping income support at a time when inflation is skyrocketing.” “The most vulnerable in our society are at risk of worse health outcomes as a result of this budget.”

A man in a suit holds a folder of papers, with the Nova Scotia flag in the background.
Alan McMaster, Minister of Finance and the Treasury Board, leaves a press conference prior to the presentation of the provincial budget at the Nova Scotia Legislature in Halifax, Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press)

Increase in ‘Targeted Support’

But Finance Minister Alan McMaster and Premier Tim Houston both said the government would focus on providing more “targeted support” to help Nova Scotians.

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re looking at the whole picture and supporting people in the way that we think we can best support them,” Houston told reporters.

This includes increasing the Nova Scotia Child Benefit by $8 million and adding $28.7 million to the Disability Support Program. $8.2 million is targeted for the homeless and supportive housing initiative, and the government will spend $21.6 million to add 1,000 new rental supplements, bringing the total to 8,000 in the province.

McMaster said the budget is “a set of estimates” and can change over time.

“We will always keep the door open to consider alternatives,” McMaster said. “My hope is that we will see a good economy in the coming year … but we always want to be mindful of those who are not as fortunate and we will continue to provide targeted assistance.”

‘Absolutely shocking’

Vince Calderhead, a Halifax lawyer whose work focuses on income support, housing issues and human rights, said many in the sector had expected an increase this year.

“It’s completely shocking,” said Calderhead, who spent 30 years with Nova Scotia Legal Aid and now works for the law firm Pink Larkin. “Everybody who worked in this sector thought the premier would do the right thing and at least allow the poorest of the poor to keep up with inflation, to maintain their standard of living.”

According to the province’s website, the enhanced income support rate for single recipients — who are disabled, over age 55 or fleeing an abusive situation — is $950 per month. The standard ‘mandatory’ rate for people living in homeless shelters is $380 a month.

As of March 1, the province said about three per cent of Nova Scotians received income support and about 75 per cent of those recipients are single people. One-parent families make up the next largest group, with 34,723 beneficiaries

Calderhead says targeted support rather than comprehensive programs may miss the target and lead to further problems

“We need universal services in the delivery of social services and health care,” Stratford said. “The targeted approach leads to more stigma and does not address the full need, especially when we are talking about the well-being of the child and the family.”

a woman looking at the camera
Denise Daly, who heads the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax, says she often sees people on income support struggling to buy food and pay their electricity bills. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Food bank use on the rise

Denise Daly, executive director of the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax, said the organization sees 35 to 40 new people coming to her every day for help.

She said they had 12,000 customers last year and are already on track to surpass that number this year.

Daly also said that his organization has an emergency assistance fund to help people pay bills such as electricity, heating oil and medicine. It is funded mostly by donations, and has already had 100 applicants since January – up from 225 applicants last year.

“It shows the community is in dire need of help,” Daly said. “If there is a critical need, more needs to be done to support them.”