The history of social welfare has been long and varied, being part of the Roman, Islamic and Jewish empires. It has covered different groups with different criteria but overall it was for the poor and needy, for the elderly, widows and people with disabilities.
Canada has had a welfare system since the Great Depression. Part of a social welfare system, in Canada’s case includes health care, education and supporting the underprivileged. It can vary from province to province as to what specific criteria are. There is also the specific welfare part of welfare, which is helping those who are unemployed or unemployable.
I have had the unfortunate experience of needing welfare firsthand. When I was in my 20s I hit a time of recession in the province and couldn’t get a job. Putting in over 50 applications a month landed me nothing. I had no choice but to go on welfare. As it turned out there was a period when my other two roommates were in the same situation. We would get a few tins of food from the food bank and limp celery and eked by. I had no savings, no car and was not even sure how to do more than I already was.
Eventually I ended up with a part-time job for two days a week. The business was good enough to pay me under the table. If they had taken deductions and given me a pay slip I would have had to report it to welfare. That amount I made would then be deducted from my welfare payments. Welfare at that time paid something like $300-400 a month, hardly enough to live on. I could lay around and get $400 or I could work part-time and get $400. There really wasn’t incentive to even work part-time. So the under the table arrangement helped me survive because who can survive on that amount when rent is $300?
I then got a second part-time job and worked under the table there for two days a week. That gave me four days at part-time. It made the welfare bearable but still hard to do much. At the same time both businesses offered me a full-time job and I went with the one that I thought would keep me interested longer. I got off of welfare with a huge sigh of relief. It was humiliating and belittling.
In Canada’s past, women and single mothers on welfare weren’t allowed to have boyfriends and their virtue and chastity were watched as much as their bank accounts. This attitude can perpetuate in our society. It’s one thing to be buying designer clothes but to have nice clothes and a haircut for applying for jobs is another thing. Yet people have been scrutinized and punished if they try to have any normal aspect of living. “Welfare bums” are relatively rare and those who are like that often have other underlying conditions that could do well with other government services. If a person is an alcoholic or drug addict or socially inept or unhygienic, which stops them getting a job, then the answer is not to leave them on welfare but to help them become another useful cog in society’s great machine.
Yes cogs. The cut and dryness, or the black and white world of welfare is denigrating and hard. Most people don’t choose to be there as it’s no way to live. My second brush with welfare was at a point when I was trying to move out of freelancing into another job. I was in school full-time for three months doing an apprenticeship program in script supervising. Unlike every other person in the course I had neither a spouse to support me through the program, nor was I able to get unemployment insurance because I was a freelancer. I did have two publishers in New York and on average received one manuscript a month from each. This was enough to get by on while finishing the program.
Unfortunately, both publishers went under or changed focus (one to movies) at the same time and I lost my source of income. I didn’t want to forego the course but what money I had got me through to the end of November and I still had December to go with no options. I went to welfare and said I only needed $300 to pay my rent and I could get by. ( I lived alone and had no roommates). At that time I had a grand whopping total of about $4,000 in RRSPs. RRSPs are heavily taxed if you take them out early. They are also taxed if you take them out when you’re older. But people get them as retirement income, a way to cushion one’s unemployed elder years.
Welfare would give me no money at all. Not even $5. Here I was, in school, going through training, with no options and they wanted me to cash in that $4,000, so that I could then depend on the state for longer when I was older, use medical services more because I was not living well, or more likely, end up living under a bridge. This was the government’s solution. Of course the rate of welfare isn’t much higher than it once was but I probably needed to be a drug addict to get any support. It was the only time in my life where I was seriously contemplated prostitution. I just couldn’t get up my nerve to do it, yet this is where my government wanted me to be.
So the next time you pass judgment on one of those welfare bums, trying walking and living a mile in their shoes. Welfare isn’t for the weak at heart and most people can’t even survive on it. There is no such thing as living a free and easy life while on it. Oh, and how did I get through that month? By the good graces of friends and family. My landlords only charged me a half a month’s rent. People sent me money and I gave out no Christmas gifts. I thank my lucky stars I had such generous people in my life.