On Basic Income: A great idea but not as simple as some may think

not-so-easy-button

Amir Farahi, Executive Director of the relatively new London Institute, posted a piece in Our London paper regarding the popular idea of Guaranteed Basic Income. On a very broad level, I agree with Amir that this kind of guarantee is needed for our most vulnerable including those who face precarious work, mental illness, and lack of affordable housing. As Amir shared in his post, there have been some experiments in our nations past but, If I may be so bold, implementing a GBI may not be as simple as  “fixing it”. I agree with GBI and believe we should leave no one behind, but a simplistic approach results in complex problems.

Before diving headlong into converting every program that supports those in poverty to a basic income we first have to consider what goes along with those programs. Are support personnel still going to be needed? What if someone receives a GBI but has mobility issue? What happens if they receive this money, but there’s an addiction issue that needs serious support and intervention? There are important issues to unpack and unlike Amir I think it is a complex issue. To suggest it isn’t perhaps is uninformed.

A very real issue could be if future governments decide to change the funding for base income. We in Ontario remember the Harris government cuts to various social programs and still see the effects resonating through systems today. We must also be aware that there is a difference between basic needs and basic income. Basic needs are about food and shelter. Basic income must allow individuals to thrive and lift themselves out of poverty as opposed to creating another poverty trap as our system often does today.

We must also be aware of the sometimes large inflationary costs of living that happen. If we look at the price of food and how much it has fluctuated over the last ten years then a system of basic income must be very fluid in reacting to changing market conditions. If it is slow and unresponsive, then the very thing that GBI hopes to address becomes a hindrance to those we try to help.

I have to argue with Amir’s point “It’s time to stop the danger of subtle manipulations by our governments, special-interest groups, organizations, agencies that are perpetuating the problem and not actually fixing it.”. This is a very cynical view and assumes that there is some zeitgeist amongst those that work with vulnerable populations to perpetuate a system of inequity. Many of the people Amir includes in his criticism, especially at the agency level, see and hear the daily struggle of those they serve. To suggest that they are working counter to “fixing” the problem is at best cynical and at worst insulting. It’s easy to say “Fix it” but much, much harder to create the conditions for people to overcome and thrive in difficult circumstances.

I do agree with Amir though that guaranteed income if thoughtfully done, can decrease overlap and increase efficiency while providing dignity for those in difficult circumstances. But like everything else we must be prepared to pay for this program and to be flexible in our approach to ensuring funding. Providing someone with a serious health, mental health, or social challenge can do this, but we also need to ensure that the supports for them to thrive and continue to do so over the long term have to be in place as well.

Generosity of Spirit

loonie

There is a kind of whirligig tempo to the last week that surrounds us with sandblasted acceleration that everyone, me included, is thinking about. Of course it is our Canadian federal election i’m talking about. My social media feeds are filled with prognostications of who won the debate, who will win the election, what the foibles of each party and leader are, that in the end leave us feeling more than a little weary. But there were some issues that have been occupying my mind that I hoped would be addressed.

During the debates there was only one leader who brought up the social issues we face. Try to guess her name. Go on, I know you can figure it out. That’s right, Elizabeth May was the person to say what about poverty? What about health care? What about inequality? That was good to hear, even if for only a few very brief moments, as I’ve been thinking a lot about it in the last week. The rest acknowledged it as an after thought perhaps. I’m not blaming the other participants but rather pointing out an important missing space in the national conversation; much like Elizabeth May will be a missing space in the conversation enforced by the ridiculous “rules“ of the upcoming debates.

This, by the way, is not an endorsement of Ms. May. No. Rather it is to point something out something that I feel needs some closer examination. Her missing, as much as the important issues of social wellbeing are to the national conversation, needs some looking at. What does it say about the bastions of journalism if we can’t talk about the issues that leave many of our fellow Canadians further and further behind? What does it say about them if we ignore a key person and a raft of key issues on the cutting room floor? What does it say about us?

Last weekend I was celebrating my birthday and was at a local grocery store to pick up a few supplies with my family. We parked and while traversing the parking lot a man, sitting on the curb, asked if I had any spare change. I did and gave it to him. I went inside to get him a bottle of water as it was hot, returned, and gave it to him. I was just walking away and he asked “Hey, you a Habs fan?” I have been a Habs fan since I first moved to Canada, Lefleur being my hero, and told him so. He said, ”Knew it the moment I saw you. Hold on a sec I’ve got something for you.” He digs in his bag and comes out with a loonie celebrating the Canadiens. I told him i couldn’t take his money but he insisted and I accepted it with the generosity of spirit in which it was given. True generosity on my birthday from a man who did not seem to have the means to spare much. But he did and he shared what he had with me. I thanked him, shook his hand, and went on my way.

That moment has stayed with me all week as the election increased its tempo to a fevered pitch. He had very little but wanted to share something with me. A little generosity in a parking lot from someone who didn’t know me but wanted to share what he had. Within the context of our national, provincial, and local conversations his act seems to be a one-way proposition

given how little he had and how much so many of us have. In terms of the elections, this man and the many more like him are at best a postscript for the choosing of those who will represent us.

And on social media I see more and more pronounced judgements by many who look down upon anyone who is using our inadequate safety net; saying that they’re tired of these people and their unwillingness to work. So easy to say these things, so easy to throw a judgement out in public, so easy to click “Like.” Not so easy to look deeper and understand these problems, to see their complexity, and to try to then do something meaningful about it. Much easier to cast a judgement and move on to the next item on your Facebook feed.

in the end perhaps we can take a lesson from the man in the parking lot and his generosity of spirit. Perhaps those of us with the means, and the willingness to use our vote and voice can perhaps try to raise our own generosity of spirit to match this man’s. Perhaps with this we could filing some important gaps in the conversation going on right now. Perhaps this is an opportunity to do something a little different and change the focus. After all, it takes such little generosity on our part and provides such important opportunities for those in need.

City of Opportunity II – I speak as a Londoner

I must begin this post by stating clearly: I  AM IN NO WAY REPRESENTING THE OPINION OR POSITION OF ANY ORGANIZATION OR GROUP AND THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE AND ON THIS WEB SITE ARE SOLELY MY OWN AND ARE NOT ENDORSED BY ANY ORGANIZATION OR GROUP

Councilor White in the previous Blog Post to this asked a question at the beginning. She asked ” Will you kindly clarify your comment about the Glen Cairn Centre? Are you speaking for them or as the Emerging Leaders, ED?”  Respectfully I have never claimed publicly nor privately to speak for Glen Cairn Centre or on behalf of Emerging Leaders who is my current employer. I ask Councilor White that when she called my previous employer and current employer Friday to complain about me was she speaking as a City Councilor or as someone who works for Children Aid Society or as a Private Citizen? Does she represent the City of London Council when she handles a CAS case? Does she represent CAS when she speaks at council? Or is she or any other Londoner allowed to speak out when they see something they disagree with?

I have never once spoken on behalf of Emerging Leaders or Glen Cairn Centre here or on Facebook, and would never do so, without express permission. The problem becomes when this happens it has a chilling effect on free speech and citizen engagement. But so be it, I can not be silent, even if it has personal consequences for me and my family.

Councilor White and the Mayor have made some points in defending their position. But the heart of the matter remains and while both of them and others have direct experience with people in poverty and Londoners with mental health issues so do I both within my family and amongst many friends. I have advocated my entire life both privately and publicly on behalf of those who are most often left behind because it affects my life and the life of my City, Province, and Country.

Mayor Fontana had posted the following in response to the outcry on the cuts to affordable housing, he did this on Facebook and I post it here unedited and in it’s entirety:

With a reduction in the contribution into the Affordable Housing Program, we will be shifting our approach to affordable housing. Right now there are a number of vacant units out there and a lot of individuals and families who need them. Instead of focusing on building all new units, our focus is shifting to filling existing units and entering into public private partnerships to convert exisiting spaces (like commercial space no longer being used as commercial space) into affordable housing. It’s a different approach, but it’s still a good approach and we will be able to increase the number of people we can help. London has done incredible unique things and we will continue to do so.

Affordable HousingThe reduced funding for the Program will result in a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.Changes were made to legislation January 1, 2012. The New Housing Services Act repeals Social Housing Reform Act and gives the City of London as Service Manager more flexibility and discretion within local rules.This will give our housing experts the needed flexibility to create new housing policy and new housing programs based on the needs of Londoners, moving away from the previous prescriptive approach set out by the province.This shift in strategy is designed to achieve greater efficiency in using the City’s housing funds: 
• Families and individuals will have access to housing. While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled. 
• The City can leverage the same amount of federal and provincial funding. 
• Jobs continue to be created through construction and renovation projects. 

Working within our funding, we will be using a combination of:
• convert to rent units (increase)
• creating more short term rental supplements (increase)
• home ownership program
• building new affordable housing units (decrease)

Affordable housing right now means keeping people in their homes.”

I think there are a couple of key points here to pay close attention to and to understand more fully and to seek clarification on.  I notice in this post the Mayor states ” a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.” . Notice some important words here?  An emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term? This will mean an increase in temporary housing and not permanent housing.

It’s important to note this as well: “While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled. ” .  Fewer rental units and more short term or temporary housing.
What we need to recognize here is that we are in every case reducing the number of permanent homes as a means to achieve a 0% tax increase. We also need to understand there is an 8+ year waiting list for permanent housing and while moving more families into temporary housing may be attractive in the short term we will in fact be delaying the issue at the expense of those most vulnerable and  sadly who is to say that that temporary housing budget will be there in a year or 3 years or 5.
We also need to understand the economic as well as the human impact of this cut. Abe Oudshoorn ,a recognized voice in homelessness and housing issues, wrote in his blog “this means that the $1M cut to the Housing Reserve Fund represents a potential $8M loss, or at $140,000 per unit, 57 units of affordable housing not built.  Each new unit also represents 2 person years of full-time employment.
Abe goes on to say ” affordable housing represents a much cheaper way to house people who are experiencing homelessness.  Housing an individual in shelter costs $1,450 per month, jail costs $140 per day, psychiatric acute care costs $650 per day, and acute care inpatient over $1,000 daily.  These statistics are clearly outlined in your Council-approved London Community Housing Strategy.  Therefore, putting money into housing up-front saves us much greater costs down the line.You can read the whole post here
Councilor Joni Baechler wrote on her Facebook page ” In My Opinion
Some members of council indicated they support the cut in Affordable Housing by $ 1Million because of the “Mayor’s plan” presented to committee yesterday. To be clear, there was NO plan presented. The Mayor simply outlined how he would divert the Affordable Housing $’s. What may have been missed by some councillors was the “KEY MESSAGE” from staff on the briefing note which states: “The reduced funding from the Program will result in a STRATEGIC SHIFT from the creation of a MAXIMUM number of PERMANENT units to an emphasis on creating shorter term TEMPORARY housing MEASURES”. The plan presented is a significant divergence from the Council adopted COMMUNITY HOUSING STRATEGY. Staff DID NOT recommend the budget cut in this area.As a result of this cut, we will not be able to leverage the same $$’s in order to meet our housing targets ($20 M in municipal housing dollars has leveraged $140 M from other sources). We will construct 75 less units per year which results in the loss of 72 associated jobs. The “temporary plan” does not address the housing crisis as year after year we will fall further behind.The cut to Affordable Housing is permanent. It will temporarily solve a fiscal shortfall on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable in our community
Important in what Councilor Baechler states is that Staff recommended against these cuts and that we will not be able to leverage these dollars and we will construct 75 less units per year.
So despite assertions to the contrary we are left with the same terrible loss at the expense of those that can afford it the least, but if we can focus and share our concerns with Council and the Mayor for just one week ,as so many on twitter and email and by phone have, then maybe, just maybe, we can convince a thoughtful Councilor or a thoughtful Mayor to change their vote and end this tragedy and begin to create a city of opportunity for everyone.

Councillor Sandy White Responds

I had promised City Councilor Sandy White that I would post here on my private blog, her response to the budget cuts unedited and unaltered in any way and do so now here as well as on my  private Facebook Page.

“Thank you for the opportunity to offer a comment, Sean! Will you kindly clarify your comment about the Glen Cairn Centre? Are you speaking for them or as the Emerging Leaders, ED? First, getting to zero for the sake of getting to zero is not my goal. Clearly, we are in a deep financial recession and council needs to find practical ways to help Londoners, through this recession. We have lost hund…reds of jobs in the London area, i.e. Ford and EMD. Sadly, there are more to come. We as a council need to look at what is best for ALL Londoners.

Many Londoners indicate that they want tax relief. They cannot afford their bills for a number of reasons that can include, out of work, fixed income or working poor. People need help now! It does not make sense to take money from the taxpayer for a reserve when they do not have money to put into their own savings account or to feed their family. There are much better ways to help that are immediate, practical and less costly. While we may not be building as many new units under this new housing strategy, we are still getting positive outcomes. We will be helping more people and faster.

That being said, the affordable home ownership program was a great success—and Council may direct more funds toward it—as funds are now exhausted. Families can access a fully forgivable loan up to 8% of a home worth up to $148,000. They build equity and achieve home ownership—and they pay property taxes, so it is a win all around. Even with reducing the contribution into the affordable housing program, we are achieving good outcomes. The numbers are forth coming from Community Services, but here are some of the housing programs we offer.

The reduced funding for the Program will result in a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.

On January 1, 2012, there were changes to housing legislation. The New Housing Services Act repeals Social Housing Reform Act and gives the City of London as Service Manager more flexibility and discretion within local rules.

This will give our housing experts the needed flexibility to create new housing policy and new housing programs based on the needs of Londoners, moving away from the previous prescriptive approach set out by the province.

This shift in strategy is designed to achieve greater efficiency in using the City’s housing funds:
• Families and individuals will have access to housing. While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number
of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled.
• The City can leverage the same amount of federal and provincial funding.
• Jobs continue to be created through construction and renovation projects.

Working within our funding, we will be using a combination of,
• convert to rent units (increase)
• creating more short-term rental supplements (increase)
• home ownership program
• building new affordable housing units (decrease)

Affordable housing right now means keeping people in their homes. We have 4% vacancy rate in London that we can potentially access quickly. Affordable housing right now means keeping people in their homes. In addition, London has a 4% vacancy rate and we have many people who need assistance with affordable housing as quickly as possible. Integrated housing is much more humane and preferable to many.

For example, I have a friend who is in receipt of ODSP and they want to stay in their current apartment. However, the rent is not affordable and in order to manage the cost of rent, they forfeit having food sometimes. Living in London housing is not an option for them. They could not handle the environment and would much rather pay the higher rent for the peace of mind. This individual would welcome a rental supplement. I suspect there are many Londoners in this situation. I believe that integrated housing can be much healthier and I totally support anything we can do to promote this type of housing program.

As for the wading pools, we are moving to splash pads. In fact, Westminster is getting a new pool and splash pad this summer.
Also in an effort to offer some relief to taxpayers, council needs to strike a balance. These decisions are never easy; investing money to help pull us through these difficult financial times for the purpose of creating employment will be beneficial to our recovery.

I hope this helps!

Thank you
Sandy ”

 

The Best Opportunity We Have

We are having a hard time right now in the Forest City.  There’s a strike at Electro Motive Diesel, Unemployment is around 10%, and there are some 3500 people per month needing to use the London Food Bank. So what are we to do? Our Mayor, Joe Fontana, gave a speech on the state of the city and we got a song about London being the city of opportunity. Doesn’t feel like that right now though.

And while we could collectively shrug our shoulders and sigh there are people in London who are trying to create change, are agitating against the common belief that there is nothing we can do, and are trying to create a more meaningful community. People like Abe Oudshoorn who is ringing the bell on homelessness, companies like rtraction, Echidna Solutions , Orpheum Web Hosting, and so many of those in our local unions  who give back to the community again and again.

Then there’s the group I have been working with over the last few months, the Citizens Panel. Born out of a want to engage and a request through Glen Pearson by the City to engage other citizens, we are trying to create meaningful dialogue and change around the questions of social assistance and how we support those in our community who are the most disadvantaged. You can come and talk to us and your fellow citizens about this on January 29th 2012 @ 1 pm. At the Convention Centre..

We have groups like Pillar, The United Way, Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre, The Food Bank, The Sisters of St.Joeseph, London Community Foundation, and my new place of employment Emerging Leaders, where people can get involved and add to the discussion and work of who we are and where we are going in concrete ways. Yet still this is not enough.

Shakespeare said through the lines of Hamlet “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals”. Powerful words those. They speak of “our better angels”. And right now we need those qualities to be put to use in London. To be applied to questions of economics, wellbeing, and the commitment to how and where we live.

So many of you, and yes me to, don’t show up and don’t engage when those better angels we all have speak to us and ask us too. Times are tough and are likely to remain tough for some time to come and that is why now is the very best of times to look around you and ask where can I add my voice? Where can I contribute my time and labour? Where can I offer some of what I have to those that might need it, be that financial, spiritual, or emotional?

We have so much potential here in London but it is only realized through our combined efforts towards a common goal of community and caring. In order for that to happen we need you .We need you on the line at EMD, or volunteering in your neighbourhood, or asking questions and sharing your opinions with our leaders, or on the 29th at the convention centre. Add your industry to those mentioned above and join in on what may be the beginning of what may be the best opportunity we have.

Here’s what you can do – Show Up

The Citizens Panel

In my last post I asked where was everyone and many of you answered. I am deeply grateful for this. Some of you asked where you can show up and help and I have a suggestion for you that I hope and pray you’ll take me up on.  I’m involved with some amazing people, Rev. Kevin Dixon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Sue Wilson of the Sisters of St. Joseph, James Shelley, co-ordinator of the City Symposium, and Eric Shepperd, and Glen Pearson, on a citizens panel trying to make some concrete suggestions for the thousands of people who are on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP). Our province, Ontario, is in the middle of a review of these services (called SARC for Social Assistance Review Committee) and as a part of this you have an opportunity here in London to speak to some very specific points in order improve the lives of the most vulnerable in the places where we live.

In London a review was held with agencies and people with lived experience currently using the OW/ODSP system. Some of the thoughts that came out of this were: “Londoners expressed interest in simplified social assistance rules. While they want consistency, they also want workers to be able to respond to their individual needs. They want a program that better provides enough income to meet the cost of living particularly for food and shelter and they want a program that includes transportation as a basic benefit. They want a program that allows people to keep more of the income they earn from working and want a program that does not require that assets virtually be depleted as a condition of eligibility. Having access to adequate housing is fundamental.”Click here to read the entire report form the London meeting.

Let me give a little background so you have something to go on. Currently if you are on Ontario Works you get about $582.00/month to live on. In London the Low Income Cut off measure ( the poverty line) is a little more than $1500/month. So if you’re making a little more than $1500/month you have enough to pay your rent, get groceries, buy your clothing, ride the bus, and generally squeak by. But remember if you’re on OW you’re only getting about  582/month. That’s a difference of more than $800/month.

(Graph supplied by James Shelly)

)

Low income cut of vs OW vs ODSP

Also if you’re on OW or ODSP and you make a little extra cash, say you get a part-time job or 10 hours of work from a temporary employment agency, that gets clawed back from what you receive every month. So if you make an extra $100 that month 50.00 will be taken off of your OW cheque. So if I get paid $10.50/hr. for 10 hrs. that equals $105.00. But half of that, 52.50, will be deducted from my 582/month. So we end up with 529.00 for your OW cheque . So really I get paid $5.25 for every hour that I work while on Ontario Works.

I don’t know many people who would work for $5.25/hr. If I wanted to make 10 hours’ worth of pay I would have to work for 20 hrs on OW. Now some of you may think that this is a good deal, that we’re giving them money anyways so they should be grateful for what they get. But think about this for a second:

  1. The economy is really bad right now
  2. Part time work is becoming the norm
  3. 1 in 5 children live in poverty in London
  4. Would you work for 5.25/hr.?

Add to this, and I have seen this first hand, that you’re OW benefits may get cut off until OW verifies your income and we have a serious disincentive for anyone to try to make a little extra money.

At the City Symposium event on Dec. 13th we are going to be talking about the income gap that is growing ever wider in our country. We’re going to use this talk to then gather people around and offer recommendations to the City of London on this Social Assistance Review Process. The City will then take these recommendations and adopt them and send them on to the Provincial Government as well as the Federal Government. We will meet twice in January to do this.

So in my last post I asked you where you all were. In this post I am asking you all to show up on Dec.13th at the Wolf Performance Hall at the Central Library in Downtown London and to make a difference. You will hear about the growing income gap and then WE NEED YOU TO SHOW UP IN JANUARY  to input on improving the lives of our cities most vulnerable in a tangible, practical way.  I am begging you to make a difference. So tell your church leaders, your service clubs, your neighbours, your friends, your boss and coworkers, to show up, to make a difference, to be a part of something important.  I don’t think I’m asking too much. I just want you to change the world. Who’s in?

City Symposium 5 – Income Gap

Additional resources to understand the issue

What will we do? World Mental Health and World Homelessness Day

I’ve been meaning to write the follow-up to my posts on mental health and the issues that surround it for some time now. But what with our Ontario Provincial Election and the demands of work, school, family and my to many projects the time just seemed to slip by. But today is World Mental Health Day and it’s World Homelessness Day and here in Canada its Thanks Giving so it’s apropos that I offer my solutions to what is often a black hole of issues.

First though a couple of things you need to realise about homelessness here in London Ontario and by extension the province, the country and the world. There are often 2000 people per night that sleep on the streets or in the limited shelters in our forested city. That’s a lot of folks with no family to celebrate this holiday with nor enjoy that holiday staple the turkey dinner and they live on the street. If this makes you feel bad good. I think we all have a collective shame to bear that we allow this to happen in community in which we live

The Cost of Poverty according to the Ontario Association of Food Banks is The report finds that the economic cost of poverty in Ontario comes to $32 to $38 billion per year “ and with child poverty “If child poverty were eliminated, the extra income tax revenues nationally would be between $3.1 billion and $3.8 billion, while for Ontario, the additional (federal and provincial) taxes would amount to $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.  The total economic cost (private and social) of child poverty Ontario is $4.6 to 5.9 billion annually.”  The London Free Press Reported recently about the London Food Bank  As the food bank marks its 25th anniversary this month, use has gone up, not down. It has had an almost 10-fold increase in client families, to more than 3,200 a month. And still Londoners go hungry, are homeless and are unemployed.”

The Cost of Mental health is .  “$51 billion is the estimated cost of mental illness to the Canadian economy in terms of health care and lost productivity” and in Ontario “$34 billion is the cost of mental illness and addictions to the Ontario economy” according to the Centre for Addictions, and Mental Health(CAMH)

What you need to realize friends is that Mental Health, Poverty , and Homelessness are all deeply interrelated. But what can we do as ordinary citizens to change what seems to be an insurmountable problem? We can choose to act with a political and community minded will to ensure our governments address these as some of our highest priorities.

I can here you thinking “ Sure you keep talking about these issues but what are you offering as a solution?” Well I’m glad you asked. I suggest first that as a province and a country we need to stop talking about tax cuts and start talk about paying for the community, Province, and Country in which we want to live. This means that if I have to pay an extra $400/year in taxes to solve these issues then I’m willing to do that as the cost to making where I live a better place for everyone.

I also believe that we need to integrate our approach across disciplines. There can be no separation of church and state between health care, education, community and social services, police and justice, and the public. So on the issue of homelessness, poverty, and mental health there is a unified approach to taking action across the board that is driven by research and not politics.

A fairly straight forward thing that could happen immediately to help almost 53,000 people in London is to increase Ontario Works and ODSP (disability) payments to 10% above the low-income cut off line. At the same time we need to create a transition from OW to work. This means rather than claw back benefits when a family earns some money we allow them to keep it and once they have regular full-time employment then we allow them to keep their benefits for 6 months. This would ease the transition and ensure economic stability for that family.  With the current system this is impossible so families and individuals feel they cannot leave Ontario Works. I have seen this hundreds and hundreds of times in the past 4 years.  Our system actively discourages people from moving forward because it does not allow them to build an economic cushion. You are either on OW or your off.

This chart gives you an idea of the gap between what OW and ODSP pay and what the Low Income Cut Off mark is . This comes from Children’s Mental Health Ontario:

You can see that we have a long way to go but if we do decide to cover this distance and take on something that is important for the economic, health, and generational benefit of our community then we will be pulling down the huge economic and human cost of these underfunded and often ignored area.

In the end we can either deal with these issues honestly and with maturity or keep playing the tax cut shell game we have been for to many years. We as corporations, businesses, public institutions, governments, and most importantly citizens must decide how our communities will prioritize our efforts. I propose the priority is Poverty, Homelessness, and Mental Health, so that we have a community for all not just some.

Shame and the social help

James Shelley, a London thinker, posted something on  his blog http://www.jamesshelley.net that got me thinking about victims and heroes. Part of his point was “ Your closest circle of human relationships is comprised of individuals who are neither victims, villains or heroes toward you (or one another). Where power triad exists,common unity is altogether impossible. This ought to give us pause when we consider the manner by which we run “social programs” as a society. It seems that most altruistic, religious, and community service organizations are founded upon doctrines of heroism: “We will save you!” Tragically and inadvertently, many of the best intentioned social programs thus reinforce the power dynamics that victimized clients and recipients in the first place. The whole system needs a serious rethink from the roots of human interaction up, not from the rhetoric of hero ideologies down!”(please read the whole post here)

I have very briefly met James at Pod Camp London 2011 where he spoke eloquently about whether  to create, consume, or stream and where we as individuals fit on the continuum. The ideas behind this speech seem to come form his post here and I encourage you to read it. James is a thoughtful contributor to our ideas on society and the world but in his post I think there is something else to think about before heroism and victimhood and those roles within assisting our fellow humans. That thing is shame.

Shame is defined by the free dictionary as” A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace” and according to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, “shame is a violation of cultural or social values”. This is for me the sticking point and the place where we need to start in our value of anyone that by their own admission is suffering. That part by the way, by their own admission, is the fundamental step for me in offering my resources to anyone who asks me and is also the place where shame inserts itself in to the communities collective will to help and that individuals sense of self.

The formula for me goes something like this. I need help with X, where X is the issue I’m facing. If I need help with X then I must be less than or less capable than those people who do not have this issue. I feel this way because my society says that if I need help with X then I am unworthy or pitied in society. Because I have issue X and cannot deal with it myself independently then I feel shame. I feel shame because I have violated a cultural or social value of self reliance and the ability to take care of myself and my issue. If I feel shame then my status in my own eyes and societies is lower than those who do not need it and I swing easily into victimhood. If I am a victim and my status is lower then the helper or the hero,  then the helper or hero has a higher status. Then we end up exactly in that unequal power dynamic James was talking about: victimhood and heroism.

I think the place we must begin to work on as individuals is that sense of shame when we need help. This is true for mental health, violent crime, rape, poverty, homelessness or any other destructive social/medical force at work in our communities. We must work on removing the shame of needing help. That for me is an individual struggle and something once achieved can be passed on to our children, family, and friends.

Now you might say, and quite rightly, what about those people who are already feeling that shame and helplessness/victimhood? What can we do to help them? That is a loaded and dangerous question for me because personally I need to examine why I want to help. Do I want to be the hero? Do I want to feel superior or tick that “do something good” box on my list of things to do?  These all raise my status and raising my status for me leads to my being the hero.

What I have begun consciously thinking, and not always successfully, is that my first responsibility is to offer my status as equal to anyone that may need my assistance. My second responsibility is to find out if my assistance is needed or asked for? My third responsibly is if it is asked for then to offer that assistance without raising my status and lowering someone else’s. My greatest responsibility though is to not treat any of these issues like they are an obstacle in my day or an inconvenience when my assistance is sought. I cannot ignore pain and I can only assist if I see the person I am assisting within the same status as I see myself. Also as importantly I can only offer that assistance if i am capable of sharing it.

If we can begin to think consciously when we see someone who is homeless/in poverty/in crisis/in need of comfort in this way then maybe we equal what is often an unequal relationship with our fellow community members. While this is not a clean, works in every situation , good for everyone , answer to our collective welfare it is something for me that can work and if we work on it we may be able to eliminate the creep of shame.

Lets stick it to those folks on welfare one more time – UPDATED

THIS STORY IS NOT TRUE – NO NEWS SITE OR THE GOVERNMENT OF NEW BRUNSWICKS WEBSITE HAVE ANY REFERENCE TO DRUG TESTING WELFARE RECIPIENTS 

A friend and really decent man posted on Facebook something that floored me.

Here’s what he reacted to which was posted on Facebook”“New Brunswick is the first province that will require drug testing when applying for welfare (effective July 1st)! Some people are crying this is unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional?? “

Bill responded this way

“First of all, the idea that people should have to pass a drug test to qualify for welfare is ridiculous. Is the system abused? At times. Show me one system in our society that’s not. I suspect more six figure business people are guilty of tax evasion or fraud. And also, maybe this didn’t originate in this province but I don’t know anyone who works and has to pass a drug test. Where are they getting this every working person shit? While we’re at it why don’t we stop giving healthcare to people who smoke? And there are people who have posted this on my own friends list who work and wouldn’t pass a drug test to save their lives. Not only that, there’s people on my friends list who are guilty of all sorts of shit and yet sit on their pedestal and post bullshit like this.

What really pisses me off is that there are very few people who post things such as this that actually know what they’re talking about.  They see a chance to save a buck and they jump on it without any serious consideration.  Rather than cut off the life line for people who struggle with addictions why don’t we focus on fixing the problem?  What do you think will happen when they no longer have the money to eat or live?  Crime goes up and every precious penny you saved (not really because drug testing is not cheap) is going to house them in jail or put more police in place to deal with the crime.  In all honestly, this idiotic plan would likely cost tax payers more money in the long run anyway.

I’m not against checks and balances but let’s not just target those who are desperate.  Let’s start at the top of the food chain and work our way down.”

My opinion is this – it’s easy to pontificate from the middle class or wealthy safety of our collective perch, but I work with people at the bottom of the food chain every day and I have to say that almost all of them would do anything to get of welfare. Here in Ontario it’s hard enough – see my post on this –  but now there is a rumor the government of New Brunswick has added drug testing for those on welfare as of July 1st. Happy Canada Day!

These were some of the comments on Bills Post:

  • Sometimes you just have to hit rock bottom. As long as those that are on welfare using their money for drugs, all we are doing is enabling them. There are lots of people out there that have to pass drug tests for their jobs. Anyone who w…See More
    15 minutes ago ·
  •  I’m in law enforcement and I’m not tested. Are teachers tested before they teach children? How about daycare providers? Should we drug test everyone who wants a student loan from our government? I don’t want a few bucks in student loan money to go to someones drug habit.
    11 minutes ago ·
  • All I read was people who smoke shouldn’t get health care, which I agree with
    10 minutes ago ·
  • This is in reference to welfare and welfare only. Im yet to see legit reasons why anyone is on welfare for more than a few months its intended to help ppl get back on their feet, its not meant to be lived on for their lively hoods.
    9 minutes ago ·
  • Dont say its lack of jobs, I have nothing more than high school. I was fired from a job, and within 2 weeks i had a job, and most of that time I was not even trying, I could have probably started sooner.
  •  out here, most people are drug tested for jobs…why not test those who want a free handout. If you need welfare, you shouldn’t be buying drugs with it. If you’re an addict, tough.
    6 minutes ago ·
  • The point is it shouldn’t be in reference to welfare only. It’s saying that the way welfare is used is abused. I’m saying that we should not just be targeting those on welfare. There’s lots of places where we waste money in our society. It’s wrong to target one specific group of people.
    6 minutes ago ·
  •  drug test everyone!
  • Its hard to get ‘back on your feet’ when the government requires you to use up all of your entire savings and sell all of your assests before they will even give you money. Imagine, getting the BARE minimum where you can’t even afford half of what other people see as necessities. People who do get a job on top of their welfare, get that money taken away. How does this help someone get out of the hole?
  • I agree, drug test everyone. Great idea but once you do that you’ve no longer saved a dime. So what was the point?
  • I will piss in a cup…… Done. who wants to test it.

    4 minutes ago ·
  • those deserving get, those who don’t don’t…

    4 minutes ago ·
  • Plain and simple, everyone should be free to do what they please. There are always people who will abuse something, there is no way to have complete control (ask parents, they try to do that daily with their teens). But just because a few people abuse something – doesn’t mean that everyone should be affected.

    4 minutes ago ·
  •  if people are using the system properly…then a drug test shouldn’t bother them. Only people abusing the system are pissed, cuz the free drugs are over…

    3 minutes ago ·
  •  well anyone who legitimacy uses welfare should have no problem with being tested.

    3 minutes ago ·
  •  If I was poor and living the way people have to when receiving social assistance…I’d probably want to be DRUNK off my ass every day.

    3 minutes ago ·
  • And the idea of someone who is an addict doesn’t deserve help is exactly the kind of ignorant thinking that ought to scare the shit out of most Canadians.

    3 minutes ago.
  •  help the addict, don’t give them money to buy drugs3 minutes ago ·
  •  Every resolution to the problems, its the ones who abuse who make a stink about it. They tried food stamps ppl just sold them. Should we make the recipients provide and itemized statement of where they spent their money?

    2 minutes ago ·
  • it’s a stupid ignorant and back ass idea. I know 100’s of people who for what ever reason are on welfare. It’s easy to say “get a job” or I did this or I did that but the fact is once your on welfare, something I am fortunate enough to have never experenced, its incredilby hard to get off. they don’t allow you to have more than $1000 IN assets, you have to show your bank records, your hydro bill, and liquidate rrsps. Learn something about this before you jump in and try treating people like they’re people and not an annoyance that you can pontificate on.
    I can’t begin to tell you how sickening it is to see people piling on because they think that “those welfare types need to be put in their place.” or ” Well if they had nothing to fear what’s the problem?” THE PROBLEM IS IS THAT IT’S DEGRADING AND INHUMANE TO TREAT PEOPLE LIKE THEY’RE A PROBLEM!
    Here’s a story I heard – man gets caught stealing something. He’s in a wheelchair and he’s there cause he has flesh-eating disease from injection drug use and he’s gotta steal some stuff because:
    1. The pain medication he’s on can’t be taken with the methadone which he was using to fight his addiction.
    2. His Doctor is away on vacation and forgot to refill his prescription.
    3. He needs something to kill the pain he’s in both mentally and physically.
    4. It’s the weekend and he’s got no access to his worker.
    So he gets arrested for theft and the result is that he’s humiliated, he’s in pain. and it cost us a fortune in police, jail,  and medical attention rather than funding the care that he needs without pre conditions. We need to be making sure that he has everything he needs to get his life back to where he wants it to be. You think he wants to be an addict? You think people want to be on welfare and have to justify everything you spend?
    What happened to the idea that we are our brothers and sisters keepers because we want them to be our keepers and care givers when we need it.

Ontario Works–an invasion of dignity

Monthly income for a single person on Ontario Works: $585

I get to see first hand how the people in our fair City of London Ontario deal with poverty and Ontario Works. Now here is my main issue with public perception, Ontario Works, and dignity. If If you are poor and on OW the current system does not allow you to have any dignity. This is because the current system is set up on the following principles:

1. In order to receive Ontario Works you must have spent every dime and liquidated every asset you have.

2. You must justify everything you do with any money you have all of the time.

3. You cannot have any savings over 2000.00

4. You must get off Ontario Works ASAP

Point 1  You must liquidate your RRSPs, your savings, sell assets, before you can qualify for OW. This makes no sense at all because if you liquidate your assets and live of them you put yourself closer to the bottom of the hole that is poverty. Assets mean stability and stability is something that doesn’t happen for many people n poverty.

On to point 2You must justify everything you do with any money you have all of the time”. This means that no matter how small or large an amount you come into that is not derived from Ontario Works it is highly likely that this will be deducted and in some cases deducted months after the fact. Now you may be thinking “ well those people should have to justify this. They’re getting a free ride after all”.

Why do we think of it as a free ride? Why is there an attitude of “Why should they get this and I don’t?” like it’s a 2 year old crying because they didn’t get the same thing the other 2 year old got at Christmas. Think about this, every month you must go down to an Ontario Works office and justify how you spend your money. All of your money. You have to provide receipts for your hydro, your clothing, your transit or gas, provide your banking balances,anything at all that is considered income. How many of you if I asked would open up your banking accounts to my scrutiny? You would be outraged. But if your on OW it’s a regular occurrence.This was recently in the Globe and Mail “There are hundreds of rules. She has been sent away because she was missing one document. She has had to justify a no-contact order against her son’s father and had a caseworker scrutinize every detail of her bank account. Every interrogation “makes you feel very low to the ground,” she says. And the worst, she says, is that you learn quickly “that you can’t count on anything.”

Point 3. You cannot have any savings over 2000.00. Now this may not look like a big deal but fi your trying to get off OW 2 grand does not go along way. Just take into account moving expenses, first and last months rent, clothing, and and average of rent of $560.00 for a bachelor apartment then 2 grand isn’t so much. There was an a woman on OW who received a small inheritance of 5000.00 . Now normally that would be great news but because she was on OW she had to spend all that within the month, provide the receipts on what she spent it on, or lose her benefits. She wanted to put that into an RESP for her children but the rules of OW would not allow it. This makes no sense at all but is not untypical.

Point 4You must get off Ontario Works ASAP” . So this means that you are expected to get off OW as soon as possible. A good thing right? Yes it is a good thing but remember the previous point of not having more than 2 grand in assets. This makes it difficult to get off. Also if you do something like get a student loan, highly unlikely because your credit is likely in the toilet, it would be deducted from your OW. So your essentially stuck.

Some Ideas:

In Manitoba the federal and provincial governments came together in the 70’s to do a minimum income experiment. The trail was stopped in 1978 for political reasons but recently a  professor in Manitoba has a look at the program and again and found some interesting conclusions.From the CBC: “"We found that, overall, hospitalizations in Dauphin declined relative to the control group," said Evelyn Forget, professor of community health science at the University of Manitoba. "We also looked at accidents and injuries, and they also declined. You can argue that accident and injury hospitalizations are strongly related to poverty." and further “"Hospitalizations for mental health issues were down significantly," she said, adding that teenagers stayed in school longer as a result of the initiative.”

We should do this nation wide and eliminate the inefficient and dehumanizing system we currently have. We should offer a no strings attached, that means you don’t have to divulge or justify everything in your bank account our house, minimum income guarantee for everyone in Canada and it should be enough that families and individuals do not have to got to the food bank and other charities every month. This will have a direct economic benefit to local economies, provide stability for our most fragile and at risk community members and raise more people out of poverty. From the Globe and Mail:”In general, people spend the money on food and their children, and invest a portion of what remains toward improving their incomes. In a region in Namibia with an unconditional basic income grant, child malnutrition dropped from 42 per cent to 10, and school dropouts dropped to almost zero

I know some Ontario Works workers and they are good  people on the whole. They are over worked and the case load has gone up in London by a huge amount in the last couple of years. : From Ontario Works 2010 Participant Profile for London:

• 2010 caseload expected to be
11% bigger than the 2009
caseload
• Almost half are single individuals
and 36% are families with children
• Average time on assistance is
almost two years with half being
on assistance 15 months or
longer
• The average age of the applicant
is 35 years old, with half of
applicants being 33 years or older
• 54% report having obtained
grade 12 or higher
• 86% rent from the private
market
• Three quarters are
Canadian-born
• Most live in postal code area
N5V, N5W, N5Y and N5Z
which correspond roughly to
Carling, Glen Cairn, East
London, and Argyle planning
districts

Over the past four years, the caseload has grown by 47%

What I know from working with some of the most disadvantaged in our city is that they are asked to justify what they spend their money on day in and day our. I think we need to be led by our better angels and decide that if people need the help then we as a society are obliged to provide that help. We need to do this not only for their benefit but for the benefit of the entire community so we don’t have something as shameful as 1 in 4 children in London living in poverty and we no longer have to treat the poor like they are a burden but treat them with the same respect we expected to be treated ourselves.