We often read in the newspaper about a welfare family with a problem. Some of these articles identify the people on welfare with names that seem foreign, a single parent with numerous children, or a person with a disability. As I read these articles I remember comments made by some family members and friends about how we are “paying for these people’ and they should “just get a job like everyone else.” There is a lot of anger and feelings of disgust for people on welfare that I feel comes from a lack of understanding of their situation. A more informed public would better understand how people end up in this situation. If the public understood people on welfare and the hardships they encounter they would be more sympathetic, and rather than condemn those people who are unfortunate enough to rely our welfare system, and they might be inclined to help them. During my workday I see many different situations that result in people living on welfare.
The most common situation that I encounter is lack of education. We all start our lives as either advantaged or disadvantaged. When we are raised in an advantaged home we have available to us, nutritious food, good clothes, opportunity to play on sports teams and join clubs. Our parents are interested in our school progress and encourage us to do well.
An advantaged home teaches us social skills and gives us standards and values, which allow us, interact with peers and staff and to receive the optimum from our school experience. In a disadvantaged home, the child may wake up on his or her own, with no food. There is often a lack of clothing and limited school supplies. Without proper nutrition concentrating on learning is difficult. Many of these children do not attend school regularly and therefore are not working at the same pace as other children. Learning, behaviour problems, and inability to interact well with peers and staff also reduce the ability to perform well at school.
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Some school problems may be common to children from both advantaged and disadvantaged homes but there may be differences in the ability of the families to respond to these problems. An example would be a child who has speech and language difficulties. In a more advantaged family they may have the resources would be available to obtain private help for the child and the family itself would be able to follow the recommendations of the tutor. Some of the teachers may judge children with problems differently depending on the parent’s source of income. Few would dispute that teachers and other educators might feel differently about the success of children with difficulties if the parents were professionals as opposed to those parents living on welfare. Children who experience problems in elementary school will often continue to have problems in their secondary education.
This often results in students “dropping out.” Their lack of education limits their job opportunities and many of these students apply for welfare. Fraser Mustard and Margaret McCain wrote the Early Years Study, commissioned three years ago by the Ontario Government. They advocated a program that would give every child under six stimulating, nutrition and toys that would foster brain development in the formative years. This would give all young children and edge that would assist them economically, emotionally and socially, throughout the rest of their lives.
A program such s this would make a huge difference, especially in the lives of children from low-income families. I believe this would be a real boost for children whose parents are on welfare. New immigrants often need to rely on welfare while they find their footing in Canada. I find this to be a sensitive issue with people. There are many barriers to obtaining a job. Lack of ability to speak English fluently eliminates many opportunities for jobs.
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These new residents may have training or education that is needed for employment but may not have the certification needed in Canada. The system of applying for work may be complicated, and may require language skills that new immigrants may find difficult. More aid helping immigrants adjust to their new life might result in income through employment rather that welfare. There are a good number of people who live on welfare due to a disability. This disability may take the form of a mental problem, or a physical barrier.
Those of us without mental health problems may find it difficult to understand how debilitating a mental problem can be when seeking employment, or trying to maintain a job. Advances in medication have improved this situation but the side effects of those medications frequently cause people to discontinue the treatment. Close medical supervision and testing may require absenteeism from work, which can result in loss of a job. Many people suffer from different types of mental health problems, the most frequent being depression.
Because at one time or another we all feel down, we relate this normal emotion with the type of clinical depression seen in people who have medical diagnosis of depression. More information about the difference between these problems would help people to better understand how serious depression can be. This illness, as well as other mental health problems, can frequently make employment challenging and sometimes impossible. Physical problems may inhibit the ability for employment, limit options for jobs, decrease income, and decrease workers capabilities often causing the worker to lose his or her job.
All physical disabilities may not be visible. I recently met with a family, who were on a disability pension. This client had been stabbed in the head as a child. He was in his mid- thirties and looked incredibly healthy however employment would be impossible due to the unseen injures, and therefore lead people to judge unfairly his ability to work.
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Now that we have identified how some people end up on subsidized income we can look at the lifestyle they will be able to afford. Basic needs are difficult to meet. Housing is the first “luxury feature” of welfare. The total amount allotted to this is $650. 00 per month for a single mother with one child. The average rent in Toronto is $900.
Basic mathematics indicates that to obtain housing, this single mother is going to need to use other allocated funds. Often money is taken from the food budget to pay rent. When a single mom applies for a rental unit, many landlords suddenly are reluctant to rent. Finding suitable housing is difficult, with long waiting lists for subsidized housing of about 5 years.
After securing housing renters are reluctant to complain about maintenance problems for fear of eviction; therefore, live in poor living conditions. Feeding the family on welfare income is a challenge. While most of us can stock up on sale items, or drive to discount food stores to get the best deals, welfare families lack the financial income to shop in this way. Lack of money for transportation and low basic income prevent families from saving in the same way as those with a better income.
Poor knowledge about food preparation and inadequate tools to make meals affect how far the food dollar stretches. Some food banks now require families to attend education programs teaching them better ways to use the food supplies. If we ran out of money to feed our families we have family or friends to help us out. Many welfare families do not have that kind of support and will go without until the next cheque.
Basic needs are hardly provided on this income. Funds for items that we take for granted such as clothes, transportation, non-emergency dental care, and medications (not covered by a drug card) may not be available to these families. How would we feel if we couldn’t afford baby formula or have teeth pulled because of poor dental care? I can only imagine these problems, as I am one of the advantaged ones. I hope I will never have to deal with these issues. I am hoping this letter will help you view welfare recipients in a different light. When you understand the difficulties and lack of resources welfare recipients face I believe you will be less judgemental and more open to thinking of ways to assist those on welfare.
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There are, of course, a small few who abuse the welfare system. Let us not judge the whole by the parts. Perhaps stricter monitoring could eliminate those few. From the day of your birth, our environment will effect our income, our ability to provide for our families, and our destiny.
Our community needs to provide services to help families, especially children, to overcome obstacles to education, housing and health. Please make yourself aware of what programs your community is working on to help these families.