Busting the Myths Surrounding “Welfare”

Background

Consider a "typical" Canadian family – mum, dad, and two kids – enjoying a comfortable life where both parents work, and the kids are active in school programs and sports. They don’t have much saved up in a ‘rainy day’ fund, but they are paying down the mortgage as fast as they can and following a path of prudence and fiscal responsibility – as described by the smart-suited ‘experts’ on TV.

And then the world changes. Well-paid manufacturing jobs disappear. Fifteen or twenty years of experience become a barrier to employment ("Oh you’re over-qualified for what we need, and we only pay…"). Good full-time jobs get replaced by low quality part-time jobs at minimum wage, and with no benefits. When family members get sick, or need dental work, or an accident results in ongoing disability, or health issues require expensive prescription medications – everything is 100% out-of-pocket.

Weathering an ‘income malfunction’

Meals out, the Movie Channel, concerts, and foreign vacations quickly disappear (replaced by ‘staycations’ and occasional visits to family). Making the mortgage payment each month becomes everything. Mum becomes hairdresser to the whole family.

But this is no short-term ‘glitch’ – the world of work has changed and there are hundreds of candidates for every job that becomes available.The Employment Insurance (EI) program and Ontario Works can only provide the most basic ‘social safety net’ during this re-structuring and polarization of our society.

As periods of unemployment become longer, the cost offood and clothing becomes an issue - requiring trips to food banks and community clothing providers.

Who can we turn to for help?

"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped." ~ Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." ~ Mahatma Ghandi

Unfortunately, just when the need for support is at its greatest, most governments have embarked on "austerity" campaigns to address their revenue shortfalls. Cutbacks are typically targeted at those who are perceived as having the least political influence, have limited resources to defend themselves, and are thought to have a weak public "voice." This is not governments’ finest hour.

Business interests have a strong voice – "we make the jobs, give us tax breaks or we go somewhere else…" They can demand – and typically get - concessions and lower tax rates. This reduces government coffers further just when the ‘social safety net’ is needed by more families and individuals.

Some organizations lobby to keep low minimum wage levels that support only poverty. But that takes away potential consumers from businesses (people kept in poverty have no ‘spare’ money to spend).

The media could highlight stories of people in poverty seeking to improve their situation and simply asking for fairness and appropriate support as they go through their own re-structuring of life in response to changes around them. However positive stories of struggle, growth, and ultimate success (rising above poverty) seldom make the front page. Instead we typically hear tales of welfare "cheats" and excesses. These are NOT the realities of poverty, they are the exceptions.

Fairness, and support from an engaged community, requires a proper understanding of the realities faced by those in poverty - not views developed based on sensational and biased reporting.

The Power in Us

We are the best at telling our individual and unique experiences in poverty. We can share the lessons we have learned, how we cope, and the steps we are taking to rise above poverty.

Individually we may find it difficult to get our stories out to the community at large. Through community groups like Voices for Change Halton, we can exchange knowledge and develop strategies to make our voices heard in our community.

By supporting and partnering with organizations across the province – and across Canada – we can help create a ground-swell of support from those who genuinely seek to understand the real issues and not just react to the sensationalized ‘sound bites’ from the media.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is working to educate the public on poverty issues and is actively lobbying for improvements to the current ‘social safety net’ that is failing so many people. See the OCAP website at http://www.ocap.ca/

Other organizations are also taking a leadership role: The following information is from the CUPE website at

http://www.cupe.on.ca/raisetherates:

"Since the days of the cuts by the Mike Harris government, people receiving assistance through Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program have seen their income levels drop by almost 60 percent.
This is why our union is working in solidarity with the

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and other partners, including the Public Service Alliance of Canada-Ontario, to "Raise the Rates" of social assistance in our province."

We need to be proud "ambassadors", sharing our experiences and the lessons we have learned with the wider community of concerned Canadians. When they hear the truth of living in poverty and understand the realities of unemployment, disability, and surviving on inadequate welfare payments, we will create an army of supporters that will change society for the better.

You are an ‘agent of change’ helping to create a better Canada! Thank you for all your efforts.

Take Action for May 2, 2013 Budget in Ontario

Now that the Ontario Budget has been set for May 2nd we have only a few more days to make our voices heard. Please click here to take action right now!

Inequality is taking a deeper hold in Ontario, despite a promise by our political leaders to address poverty.

Urge our political leaders to keep their word.

The minimum wage, social assistance rates, and other measures intended to lift Ontarians out of poverty have all fallen farther and farther behind.  Despite growing wealth in our Province, it is harder than it was five years ago, ten years ago, even twenty years ago for the poorest residents of our province to pay the rent, keep food on the table, and afford even the most basic necessities.

In 2009, all three Ontario political parties voted for legislation to reduce poverty but things are getting worse. The minimum wage has been frozen for the last three years, eroded by inflation. Social assistance has not kept pace with the cost of living. Today, a single person on welfare receives $606 a month, nowhere near enough to pay the rent and put food on the table.
Right now, there is a window of opportunity to turn that around. At Queen’s Park, all three parties are negotiating what should be in the 2013 Ontario budget being released in April. This is our chance to tell Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak, and Andrea Horwath to live up to their commitment to begin to end poverty in Ontario by taking decisive action.

Poverty is tearing at the very fabric of our province, undermining the quality of life for all.
You can make a difference. Please act right now.
Send a message to your MPP.


Poverty Free Ontario

Community Development Halton

Put Food in the Budget

Voices for Change-Halton

Poverty Reduction Forum in Halton

The Halton Poverty Roundtable recently hosted a Poverty Reduction Forum in Halton to provide information to the community about action surrounding the Social Assistance Review as it pertains to poverty reduction.

Developing and supporting the leadership of those who experience injustice is at the forefront of the way the Halton Poverty Roundtable works. Listening to those who experience injustice must be the first step in formulating a response.

Led by MC & Spoken Word Artist Greg Frankson, aka Ritallin and following a keynote address from Jennifer Laidley (Income Security Advocacy Center), Voices for Change members participated in panel and small group discussion, providing lived experience and knowledge.

Members of Voices have reflected on how to use their gained experience of the day to provide positive input for allies to help create best practices for future event opportunities.

Practical details such as enhanced audio and visual for hearing and vision impaired participants; pre-arranged seating to assist in equal distribution of experience and knowledge; providing both breakfast and lunch for everyone to both accommodate participants travelling long distances and not center out those who may not have had access to food that day (or the day before).  One comment was, ‘this event has brought out the cracks in poverty’ in relation to how many attended with ease while those with lived experience may have been uneasy.

‘A brainstorming situation of lived experience; a thought provoking environment’ the group continues to work towards identifying priorities and finding a way forward.

Voices for Change members are well placed to advocate for ability challenges such as wheelchair accessibility, hearing impairments, special diet allowance, housing subsidies, food security and mentoring others to be stronger and use their voices to fill the gaps society has left.

An in-depth series was written by Toronto Star reporter Joe Fiorito who attended the event.

  http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/04/15/long_march_for_welfare_reform_fiorito.html

Submission from Voices for Change

August 25, 2011

Halton Region covers over 967 square km of land, including a 25-km frontage onto Lake Ontario between the cities of Mississauga and Hamilton. The approximate population of Halton Region in 2008 was 467,200.

Income levels reflect that Halton is one of the most affluent areas in the country. But not all share in the abundance. The income inequality between the families at the median income level of $92, 416 and those living in poverty amidst this affluence is shocking.

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We do not accept poverty as an inevitable feature of society

Follow the work of the Voices for Change movement as we attend rallies, workshops, and conferences and create powerful awareness about anti-poverty progress in the Halton region.