Saskatchewan

Protestors at Sask. Legislature rally against Social Services cuts

People gathered in front of Saskatchewan's legislative building in Regina to rally against cuts to social services benefits.

People gathered at Saskatchewan's legislative building in Regina to rally against cuts to disability benefits

The crowd claps as a speaker takes the podium at a rally in Regina against cuts to social services benefits. (Tory Gillis/CBC)

A group of around 50 people gathered with signs in hand on the steps of the Saskatchewan Legislature Friday afternoon

They were there to protest cuts to social assistance benefits for some 2,700 people across the province who receive money under the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program.

Speakers including NDP MP Erin Weir, NDP MLA David Forbes, some affected people and other housing and disability advocates stepped up to the podium with their perspective on the cuts.

Letter cites improved rental market, more housing

Earlier this week, people relying on supplemental social assistance started receiving letters saying they would no longer be receiving extra living income benefits beyond the standard living income benefits.

One letter shared with CBC stated to the recipient:

"You will no longer receive the extra living income that was provided because you received a rental increase notice from your landlord at a time when there was a severe shortage of rental properties in your community. In recent months, the rental market has improved and there are more options available across the province."

However some recipients and caregivers are taking issue with that.
People at the rally carried signs expressing their frustration over the cuts. (Dann Mackenzie/CBC)

"My SAID payments and my Saskatchewan housing supplement allow me to purchase groceries and pay the rest of my bills. Without that SAID payment, I'm in a hole that I'm not going to be out of," said Will Dinu, who says he has a brain injury, is able to work, and needs assistance to make ends meet.

Dinu added that his rent has increased by around $50 per month annually over the past six years.

"Cheaper housing that's out there— I'm supposed to be in affordable, low-income housing with the City of Regina. I'm with Regina Housing. Right now they're increasing their rents. So I don't know how they determine low-cost housing."

CMHC reports show increased vacancy and increased rent

But the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's latest rental report in Regina shows that despite an increase in available rental apartments in Regina from October 2014 to October 2015, it also shows rental rates have increased overall, and in bachelor, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment categories. The average two-bedroom rental in Regina is at $1,097 as of 2015, up from $1,079 in the same category the year before.
Will Dinu spoke about his brain injury and the difficulties he'll have making ends meet after his disability benefits are reduced. (Tory Gillis/CBC)

"Mr. Wall I challenge you. Come live with us for one month," Dinu said to reporters on the Legislature steps Friday. "I have a bedroom. You can have my bedroom. I'll sleep on the couch. That's my challenge to you, sir. I dare you."

NDP politicians, anti-poverty and housing advocates speak up

"Our constituency offices have been swamped," said Saskatoon Centre NDP MLA David Forbes, who is also the provincial Opposition's Critic responsible for Housing, Diversity, Equality and Human Rights. "In many ways the stories that we're hearing— and 2,700 people are receiving this— all have their own personal stories about how this extra living benefit really is an essential living benefit."

Peter Gilmer, of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry added that governments have three main options to make sure people are able to find housing, including: rent control, social housing and ensuring those who are unable to pay rental rates are allowed enough income to do so.
A sign attached to the podium at the rally addresses a challenge to the premier. (Tory Gillis/CBC)

"Rent controls are not on the agenda, expansion of social housing is not on the agenda, in fact it's being cut. So what do we have left?" he asked, adding that many people receiving SAID money are still 'well short' of covering rent.

"When governments have a tight financial time because of their own mismanagement where do they look first? They look to the most vulnerable people. And to be talking about cutting from the most vulnerable people and calling it about equity and fairness is just the most awful use of language I can imagine. Shameful."

Delay 'not enough': Gilmer

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Social Services said it is revising its timeline on the cuts. Initially it planned on having SAID benefits reduced by Oct. 1, but said workers will talk to each person affected by the changes before they receive reductions to their social assistance money.

Gilmer said to the crowd Friday that a delay doesn't solve the issue. 

"We do know there's a delay but that's not enough. We will continue to fight until there's cancellation," he said. 

Province takes matter seriously, says premier

Speaking from a Saskatchewan Party caucus retreat in Waskesiu, Premier Wall responded to further questions about the concerns over the looming Social Services benefit cuts. Asked about the housing market reference, Wall cited higher vacancy rates including in Saskatchewan government housing.

"I want to be very clear. There has been no government in recent history in the province that has provided more supports to vulnerable people than our government," he said, adding that the Saskatchewan Party brought in SAID.

"We take the matter of making sure we're helping the people we need to help very seriously."
Premier Brad Wall responded to reporters' questions about the social services benefit cuts in Waskesiu Friday. (CBC)

Wall added that the government will give itself and people receiving assistance more time to deal with the changes, and that he doesn't want to see any 'unintended consequences' for people who need the support of the government, and it also wants to make sure there is no 'duplication' of support among multiple programs. 

"There might be some unintended consequences, some people who, we need to meet with to make sure that those who need the help are not worse off as a result of this," he said. "And if there are extenuating circumstances, we're going to deal with those as well so people have the support they need."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tory Gillis

Journalist

Tory Gillis began work as a journalist with CBC Saskatchewan in 2012. You can hear her deliver the afternoon news on weekdays on CBC Radio One in Saskatchewan. She has also worked as a reporter, and as an associate producer on CBC Saskatchewan's radio shows, The Morning Edition, Bluesky and The Afternoon Edition.

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