A Welfare State of Mind

The BC government thinks they shouldn’t raise the rate for welfare recipients because it might equal the rate of the working poor. Notice that they’re not going to do anything with raising the minimum wage so there are fewer working poor or get rid of their contentious two-tier wage, where younger people can be paid a lower minimum wage.

In any system, whether just paying income tax, being on welfare, unemployment or being employed, there are people who cheat. In all cases, it’s a small number of people. For welfare, most of the people are on it, not because they’re lazy or bilking the system, but because they have to be.

I speak from both sides of the fence. In my twenties I was out of work and putting in fifty applications a month. I had finished high school, graduated from art college and still could not find a job. I lived in a house with two other people. At one point we were all unemployed. Rent was still cheaper than trying to move. With welfare for each of us, we still had to get food from the food bank because welfare barely covered the cost of rent. Any extra bills, and I had fewer then, were beyond the means.

Welfare is designed to belittle, humiliate and keep people impoverished. It used to be, decades ago, that a woman on welfare also had to answer for her social life, everything from who visited to what their boyfriends did, if they were even allowed to have a male visitor. More women than men are on welfare. If a marriage falls apart and the guy is  a deadbeat dad, then the woman is left with trying to get a job, plus raise children and provide childcare, and often childcare amounts to as much as she earns. So she ends up on welfare. Or as a prostitute.

Welfare punishes you if you get a job that doesn’t pay enough or isn’t full time. You’re given a base amount (if you’re single–$610/mo.) but should you make some money, you have to deduct it against the welfare amount. I’m not sure what this is. Navigating through the labyrinth of the BC government’s income assistance site does not net you this information, so I’m presuming it’s the same. If you’re on unemployment I believe you’re allowed to make $50/wk before the amount is deducted against your unemployment amounts. So let’s presume it’s something like this.

What then happens is a person isn’t encouraged to get a part time job, if they still must be on welfare. You end up working for the same amount you would get for not working. When I was in such a situation the only way I survived was by being hired by one company for two days a week. Yes, it was under the table so that I could actually survive on welfare. Eventually, they hired me full time and with great relief I said good bye to the humiliation of welfare.

Many years later I ended up in a situation where I had been freelancing for years, but had lost my clients at the same time. I couldn’t get unemployment because I was freelance. I was $300 short of rent one month as I was looking for more work. I didn’t know what to do so I appealed to welfare. At that point I had about $4,000 in RRSPs, my retirement income, in hopes that I won’t have to live under a bridge in my elder years. All I needed was $300 for one month. I would have even repaid it, but no, I was told I would have to exhaust my RRSPs first. I’m sure if I had owned a house they would have wanted me to sell it. They might have wanted me to sell the car I had but it wasn’t worth much and would have left me more stranded for work.

I found it particularly transparent of a government’s true attitude, where they were willing to bankrupt people completely and leave them destitute in the name of keeping them off welfare. I would have then been a full welfare recipient in my retirement with no resources to fall back on. Somehow, something came through last minute, saving me. But in my desperation I was seriously contemplating prostitution. That’s where the government welfare policies put many people.

And if you get only $610/mo and don’t have several roommates, and perhaps a couple of bill payments, well, then you might end up sleeping on the streets so you can eat and pay those bills. There are people, the working poor, who likewise live on the streets because they can’t afford housing. Eventually that hard living will cause more health problems and then the government will pay out more in health services to heal those people. But it’s much better to keep a person less than poor so that they can never get out of the perpetual welfare state.

I pray that with the cost of housing, heating and the rising price of food, that I don’t eventually retire into abject poverty. I wish I could say this was too far from the truth to consider, but it’s a reality that could just be around the corner. It’s too bad that supposedly progressive governments have such short vision and lack the perspective to take their thinking out of a welfare state.

http://www.policyalternatives.ca/News/2008/04/PressRelease1868/index.cfm?pa=BB736455

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080423.wxbcwelfare23/BNStory/National/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20080423.wxbcwelfare23

http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/2007/increase_table.htm

http://thetyee.ca/News/2008/04/22/Poverty/

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