Income support in Nunavut: ‘It’s a very stressful life’
Madeleine Qumuatuq says she’s trying to get by on a little over $300 a month of income support from the Nunavut government.
“It’s really not enough to live on in a good way,” she says. “It’s a very stressful life.”
Qumuatuq, of Pangnirtung, Nunavut, is one of 14,000 people in Nunavut who rely on income support for their daily needs.
A recent report found the average cost of groceries for a family of four in Nunavut is $19,760 per year while almost half of Inuit adults earn less than $20,000 annually.
“Right now, we have to buy more food from the stores, which are very, very expensive,” Qumuatuq says. “Just the meat alone is expensive, not including the sides.”
Qumuatuq says she worries especially about single men who don’t have the skills to cook economically.
Living on income support means going without basic services that other Canadians take for granted, like a phone or an internet connection — services that make a big difference to quality of life.
“We are grateful for it. because if there was nothing, then it would be way, way worse,” Qumuatuq says of the income support program, but she says the program should be structured so that people can supplement their incomes.
For now, extra earnings are clawed back from recipients’ cheques, which means people relying on income support often can’t get ahead by earning money. Taking a part-time job can mean losing all income support and facing higher rents in public housing.
Qumuatuq is not the first to suggest some sort of guaranteed minimum income as a way to relieve poverty in Nunavut.
In December, Nunavut’s anti-poverty secretariat — a high profile multi-agency group formed under Eva Aariak’s government — came to the same conclusion.
The head of the anti-poverty secretariat has admitted in the past that the program has become an option of first resort.
But Brandon Grant, Nunavut’s director of income support assistance, says the program is meant to be a temporary measure to support Nunavummiut.
He says income support workers can help recipients update resumes and look for work, or get into different education programs, such as carving and sewing.
Grant says the number of people on the program is going up, and that his department plans to make changes.
That’s something Qumuatuq and many others in Nunavut can’t wait to see.
“People who are on income support tend to shut down in ways of speaking out,” she says, “so I’m hoping I’m speaking for other people too.”