By Christine Watts
It is hard to feel hopeful or mentally stable when I think about the upcoming provincial budget and report from the Commission Reviewing Social Assistance. My concern is no longer whether they plan to slash the net out from under us – but when and by how much they will reduce our income, benefits and supports.
If the under-employed and those who lack access, mobility and ability are suddenly expected to find work and this requirement is imposed through an inhumane and unrealistic program; the clients will no doubt be blamed for laziness and lack of effort. But few low-income people have the resources or opportunity to create their own work. How can jobs be invented from air? How can our government force or oblige employers to hire the disabled – or to retain them as employees? Would you hire a person with a mental illness?
How much will be wasted by temporary fixes: work subsidies, placements or training – if any? What actual supports will be available? Are these any more affordable than existing benefit rates?
Reality check: As more workers lose jobs and their own security, competition increases and communities have less need for service and other low-wage jobs, leaving the disabled with fewer options and opportunities. If I was assessed for my “apparent” level of function and employability, I might find myself no longer eligible for disability benefits. But I would then be unable to assist in providing for my needs through part-time work, because I wouldn’t be able to afford pain and asthma medications, basic dental care, glasses…
Truly frightening is the thought of once again living under the “care” of the local Ontario Works office. Years ago, when I qualified for Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), I counted my blessings. The Ontario Works workers may not be unkind by nature but their policies, and resulting approaches, tend to be suspicious and punishing. For these attitudes we can thank Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris. I remember his regime with disgust. In my opinion, he and his cohorts fostered crimes against persons and committed slander against whole groups of people: those who disagreed and the vulnerable – for example pregnant women. Harris has been rewarded by high status and income, while we are still being targeted and demonized.
I don’t believe Frances Lankin, Munir Sheikh and Don Drummond hate the poor and disabled. But their focus is on budgets. They remain disconnected from the reality of our lives and our rights as community members. Why does our government neglect to consult the surviving poor about cost-cutting measures and doing more with less? We are the experts. As a mother and a human being, I grow weary of hearing about fiscal and financial deficits. What about Social and Moral bankruptcy?!
To my knowledge, Canadian conservative spiritual values are based mainly on Christian morality. So what would Jesus do in Ontario? He taught compassion, care and justice for the vulnerable as essential actions.