Nova Scotia income assistance system 'broken' and needs reform

Nova Scotia's Community Services minister reassured people worried about a radical overhaul of income assistance, saying change doesn't necessarily mean cutbacks.

Advocates worry province won't consult with the people affected by planned changes

Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said the government will consult with stakeholders before making changes.

Nova Scotia's Community Services minister reassured people worried about a radical overhaul of income assistance, saying change doesn't necessarily mean cutbacks. 

It's being called the department's biggest undertaking in more than 20 years, but advocates who work with the poor worry reform means cutbacks. The minister says that's a big assumption.

"Reform doesn't mean less. Reform means making things better, and that is what the goal is," Joanne Bernard said. "The system is broken. It needs to be fixed. Benefit reform is long overdue in this province."

Advocates for the poor such as Judy MacDonald, Dalhousie University's interim director in the School of Social Work, agree change is badly needed. It's how the review is being done that concerns her. 

No consultation?

"It's the government making decisions. It's not the government in consultation. They're not talking to people with disabilities, they're not talking to single moms on assistance, they're not talking to people that know what it's like to live day by day in poverty," she said.

The Community Services minister says it's too early for consultation. "It would be a very short conversation," Bernard said. "We're just not there yet."

Bernard says the overhaul is in its very preliminary stages. The department has a $285,000 budget for consultants to help with the review. She makes no apologies for that, saying the file is too important to sit on the corner of a desk somewhere.

She says consultation with clients, advocates and their service providers will take place over the next year. "You have my assurance on that, on consultation before any decisions we make, before any direction is done."

Bernard says it will likely be 2019 before any radical changes are in place.

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