Should people receiving social assistance be forced to accept work, with their benefits being cut if they turn down a job? And should the government be allowed to force these people to move to a different city in order to accomplish this?
Thanks to Bill-70, which was passed into law last November (2016), this will actually be happening to first-time welfare applicants in Quebec. Labour Minister Sam Hamad argues that this program will help “break the vicious cycle of poverty.” The argument, I suppose, is that it will be helping welfare recipients find jobs – even though it could mean forcing them to spend several hours each day just commuting, or accept government-mandated employment that could conflict with underlying mental health issues, child care, or accepting a job that is hard to fill for reasons that those living on social assistance might also find unappealing for the same reason.
Not to mention the fact, according to the Advisory Committee for the Fight Against Poverty and Social Exclusion in Quebec, in 2014, there were over 340,000 unemployed Quebecers, all potentially competing for the only 41,700 vacant positions available in the entire province.
This move by the government will apparently save the province up to $50 million dollars a year in welfare payments, or so the Labour Minister claims. But is this based on the assumption that there will be a certain amount of non-compliance? In other words, set welfare recipients up for failure and save a small fortune in the process?
No kidding – forcing people to accept jobs under these circumstances will create all kinds of potential conflicts and hardships. And if you want to argue that people living on welfare should be forced to do this because, after all, they need employment, then why not instead focus on developing programs that actually help people improve their employable skills and find meaningful, stable work? Because tapping into harmful myths about lazy ‘welfare bums’ who refuse to work – despite a National Council on Welfare Study that half of all poor people are actually working, and that welfare incomes are well below the poverty line – allows the government to try and save money by throwing a marginalized group of people under the bus.
Despite solid evidence that welfare fraud is practically non-existent in Canada, our federal and provincial governments continue to create new programs designed – they claim – to save money off the backs of these so-called welfare cheats, and young people who would prefer to sit on their couches and watch television, then actually work for a living.
By framing Bill-70 as the way to end the ‘vicious cycle of poverty,’ by forcing those ‘lazy welfare bums ‘to accept jobs (which, by the way, the government doesn’t identify or say much about) suggests that not only are there actually jobs to be filled, but that unless forced, welfare recipients will always chose to stay home and do nothing, refusing to work unless forced to with threats of having their already incredibly low incomes slashed in half.
So why all the poor-bashing, despite the overwhelming evidence that most of the worst claims made against those living in poverty are out right wrong?
An editorial in the Toronto Star suggests we want to blame the poor for their own state of poverty, viewing them simply as just lazy and dishonest, because “then it will seem less likely that poverty will happen to us, the hard-working, the responsible.”
In other words, poor people scare us. They’re a constant reminder that being willing to work hard isn’t always enough to guarantee a life free of poverty.