Eddie Grant, Electric Avenue (1983)
I don't care if the Social Assistance Commissioners say it is a bad time to be on welfare in Ontario.
I don't care if the Social Assistance Commissioners say that it is a bad time to be writing reports on how to reform the welfare system.
Carol Goar hit the nail on the head with her article today in the Toronto Star, which includes a reference to barriers to reform, such as people with disabilities not wanting anything to do with the report and its recommendations.
Yes, this is true. As a disability advocate, I look through these things with a human rights lens. Not a single reference to lifting the spousal penalty, increasing the earnings exemptions for people on ODSP to match what the lucky few can get in gifts; or allowing people with disabilities to retire in some form of dignity, especially if they are working, have worked or their spouse is working. What about encouraging those that choose to start and run their own businesses, so they can enjoy the same rights and deductions as others in business enjoy? Yes, people with disabilities want to work, but this report recommends continuing to cut them off at the knees and still expect them to walk.
Poverty Free Ontario got their analysis right. They explained why people with disabilities have good reason to fear what is in the report. Instead of some form of dressed up and shiny new workfare model being imposed only on those deemed capable of securing employment, the recommendations go as far as to suggest that persons with disabilities should be lumped into this same category. Many still fear if they do work, they will now be at risk of losing their benefits too.
The Conservatives learned from their mistake when they forced those labeled deemed "permanently unemployable" to stay out of the workforce, and for those who tried, they lost their benefits altogether, jeopardizing their ability to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table.
The Conservatives learned at the time not to mess with disability benefits because one such person walked out and tried to better herself, only to be cut off her benefits completely for the sake of a job she can do for ten hours a week at minimum wage. In response, she killed herself. The case made front page. The case made the legislature. The case made a forever bleating class of advocates even madder at the Conservatives. Let them be damned if they allow people with disabilities to die!
But, why do these Liberals seem to believe we can try something like this again, and not expect to see province wide implications of a monumental degree?
Have we lost our way with understanding why some people will simply not make it in today's unreliable, precarious and punishing labour force? For those that want to work, I see no problem with allowing them, even encouraging them so they can earn up to the same amount of money that people on ODSP can receive in gifts each month or year for each person in their "benefit unit", before the 50% claw back.. I see no point in punishing these people. As one person told me, most people had to go through "circles of Hell" to qualify for ODSP in the first place, so why are they trying to take that away now?
The Social Assistance Commissioners repeated the government's mantra that there are too many people on ODSP today. They wring their hands wondering why this is the case, even though advocates have told them that when people get cut off WSIB, long term disability, get denied EI and CPP, they have nowhere to turn to. Government and the Social Assistance Commissioners, who will be forthwith referred to as the "SAR Czars" are pretending these same people can just go get a job.
Of course, it is easy for middle class and upper middle class folks that are used to having a range of decent opportunities before them to choose from, who were raised by intact parents in intact households and had a head start, to tell those less fortunate than they are that they need an "incentive" to work.
This "incentive" unfortunately is becoming much the subject of debate. Self employed give up more than they earn by way of claw backs. Those living with or married to working spouses lose most or all of their income support under the guise that somebody else is supposed to pay their bills. Recommendations from the report even suggest dropping the Work Related Benefit AND the Special Diet Benefit in exchange for the "right" to keep a whopping $200 a month in earned income before it becomes clawed back. If the tax department told all of our millionaires that their tax deductions and corporate handouts will be provided under the same rules, I am not sure the reaction to this proposal will be much different than the reaction we are seeing from people with disabilities, who will not, by the way, find jobs overnight. It is cuts for people with disabilities that have the greatest challenges in the workplace, to help prop up those on Ontario Works by a very modest amount.
Even then, our illustrious Social Services Minister tells us that we as a province cannot "afford" to boost any of the benefits. Take this statement with a grain of salt (with a whole damn shaker thrown over my left shoulder to keep the Devil at bay), as this same government has no trouble paying for over $5 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations, over $1 billion for eHealth (remember those $3,000 a day consultants that even had their Timmy's treats paid for?), another billion or more for ORNGE with its head somehow earning over $1.4 million a year; and lately, up to a possible billion dollars spent to move two gas plants to satisfy a couple of dying Liberal constituencies. Dalton, where do we people with disabilities apply for these well paying jobs that seem to be unavailable to us?
It doesn't even matter that the Premier and the Finance Minister thought about tax cuts first for the wealthy when they came up with their 2012 budget. Well, they can take the money for this OUT of the pockets of the poor once again, with their cuts to the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit and Home Repairs Benefit. Instead of admitting they are cutting the monies spent on this benefit in half and sending it to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for distribution to the municipalities to do with as they choose, they also introduced a seemingly unrelated tax cut for home renovations for rich elderly people that want to stay in their homes. I guess you seen that Premier Care Bath commercial, where a seemingly healthy senior gets into their jacuzzi like tub amidst their washroom that appears on screen to be much bigger than most of our living rooms ... seniors get this tax credit if they can front up to $10,000 themselves first. I have an idea about this one. If they can afford to front $10,000, they're going to spend that money anyways, so why do they need a tax credit for Pete's sake, when down the street their neighbours on ODSP cannot find the money to stop their house from being a mould infested nightmare? So be it. I digress.
We had a wonderful town hall here in St. Catharines at the Start Me Up Centre on October 16, 2012, with over 150 people in attendance to attest to how they were helped by the Community Start Up Benefit or Home Repair Benefit in the past. Without this benefit, many of those in the room would have become homeless, or worse yet in some cases, dead.
Yet, who exactly is the genius that figured out this new shell game that determines that people on Ontario Works and ODSP can somehow scrimp and save from their monthly pittances to cover the growing costs of moving, replacing furniture that gets ruined by bedbugs and other infestations, or escaping an abusive relationship? I suppose the government thinks that either they are all hiding money or can get "family and friends" to move them, which is just a big a crock as their allowances for "gifts" of up to $6,000 a year that only a handful of ODSP recipients benefit from. Middle class families haven't seen family break down to the same extent that poor folks have, unfortunately. Many of them don't have families - period.
How about those homeowners that do happen to get assistance that cannot afford to fix their roof, or their plumbing or their foundation that is riddled with mould and cracks to such a point, their whole house is unstable? I know people like this in Niagara. Their city tells them it is unsafe to live in there. Their insurance companies drop them a hot potato. Their mortgage company decides to foreclose on them because they don't have any insurance. No insurance, no mortgage, no home,. says the bank. But there simply isn't anybody around anymore that will help pay for this mess and allow people to stay in their own homes. Just keep watching the media, folks. I am coming back!
I don't care what Carol Goar, the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty, many municipalities, and so forth, say about this report. Most of it is a bad idea and by far. Their idea of an adequate allowance means depriving those sick enough to need a special diet from the additional funds they needed to buy the right foods to keep them healthy. Pay for it from your basic needs, they will say. But what if there is hardly any basic needs left after I pay the rent? That's your problem, they say.
Unfortunately, folks, we have to do much more than what have been doing. Sitting in a room talking nicely to government officials is no longer working. My region in all of its wisdom decided to replace the start up benefit, but for only those on Ontario Works. People with disabilities, I assume, can just take it out of their basic needs, which are already stretched beyond reason here.
To me, this government either has to hire every single person with a disability that can work and place them in their chosen fields at the going rate that others get paid to work in that same field or give them enough money to live on! People in prison eat better than persons with disabilities living in the community. Perhaps, some enterprising researcher can speak to medical people to determine the cause of the rising incidence of recalcitrant TB, scurvy, rickets and other organ killing malnutrition based diseases we previously believed only happen to those people in the so called "third world". It is now in our backyard. That's why our health care costs are going up.
A report recently stated that poverty is costing Niagara alone over $3.8 billion a year. Yet the region's fathers continue to choose to ignore this growing tsunami by trying to divide us up. We can't let them do that to us. We must stand together, or remain divided and lose all of our rights.
Out in the streets, all of us! Out to our MPPs front door, all of us! Find out how each regional councilor voted on the question of depriving people on ODSP any further help and let's pitch a few tents on their front lawns. We have nothing to lose but our chains they have trapped us in.
Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy
And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction.
Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction