Today representatives from YW Calgary joined the Government of Alberta, our community partners and those with lived experience as we celebrated the important changes made to index social benefits like Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Income Support with inflation. These long-overdue increases to benefits will have a direct impact on women’s lives and enable them to think about their futures and how they can contribute to the community. Elsbeth Mehrer, our Vice President of People and Engagement, was invited to speak to the changes and we’ve posted her remarks below:

At YW Calgary, we work with women on some of the worst days of their lives. Days when they’re leaving an abusive relationship, struggling with homelessness, navigating their way forward to a new job or learning to speak English.

Our dedicated frontline teams of social workers, counsellors and teachers work hard each day with women and their families – 80% of whom are low income, many of them reliant on some form of government income program. Often, women in a counselling program or employment workshop struggle to focus on thinking forward when they can’t see past the stress of making rent or securing food for their next meal.

This announcement will make an appreciable difference to the women with whom we work who are living in deep poverty.

Meeting women’s basic needs through appropriate and humane income programs means we, as service providers, can focus on the deeper work of supporting women and their families to heal, learn and grow towards a brighter future.

I also want to speak about how some of the movement behind this push for long-overdue and critical changes to income assistance programs came together.

There are many social service organizations in this community providing programs and supports to low income people and those in crisis. We do that work with funding from governments and the donor community and we do our level best to respond and adapt to the changing needs of our community.

Many of these organizations have been in service for many years – we at YW will celebrate our 108th birthday just a month from now. But what many might not appreciate is just how closely these organizations — which provide essential services like shelter and housing and employment support and counselling services — work with one another. Yes, on the front line levels in ensuring individuals and families can have their needs met in the best ways possible.

But also in terms of our work to push for the system- and policy-level – changes which will make a tangible difference for folks who are vulnerable. Through the work of the Calgary Social Policy Collaborative, we have coordinated efforts to advocate for change to income programs.

This advocacy happens through our organizations on behalf of and, critically, in partnership with low-income people who depend not only on social assistance but on those of us who can give voice to their experiences. Living in poverty is demoralizing, energy-sapping and incredibly time-consuming.

That’s why we as social service providers must commit some of our energy and resources to speak truth to power. And some days – like this day – power listens and responds.

So, on behalf of the 6,000 women and families with whom the YW works, the women we hope never to meet and the tens of thousands of Albertans living on low incomes: thank you.