The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has been transformed by the construction of many new buildings. I am interested in the architecture of another transformation.
It has been 20 years since anyone took a look at social assistance rates in this province, to which end a provincial commission has been on tour.
The commission held a community consultation at CAMH the other day. I bumped into a friend there. Her name is H. She’s on disability. She knows better than I do that no one in this city can live in dignity on disability.
The rates themselves are disabling.
We chatted before the meeting began. I asked her why she came. She said, “I have five issues. The first is, we don’t get enough money, period, end of sentence.
“We can’t look after our basic needs. I’ve had to borrow money to buy clothes. I don’t mean party dresses. I mean a parka and boots to do my job in winter.â€ She works part-time. Her work takes her outdoors. She works outdoors, in spite of the fact that such work is not good for her.
The second issue?
“No more clawbacks.â€ She was referring to the cruelty of living well below the poverty line, and at the same time having her benefits cut if she earns a little extra money on the side in order to get by.
The third issue?
“The rules that violate privacy and prevent long-term relationships.â€ Huh?
“If you’re on benefits and you get married, the person you marry has to sustain you. But if the person you marry is on benefits, then all you get is $150 â€” you don’t get two incomes, you get one, plus the $150.â€
Let me repeat that:
If she had a beau, and if he proposed, and if he had a regular job, she’d have to give up all her benefits if she said yes. But if her beau was on benefits, and they wed, she would lose all her benefits, except for $150.
That is the price of love in Ontario if you are disabled in some way: Couples are forced to lie together, in order to live together.
The fourth issue?
“The quagmire of rules. You can’t keep track of them all. There’s way too many. You follow one rule and you violate another and you don’t even know it. You don’t even know all the benefits you’re entitled to.â€
Stay healthy, my friends.
Her fifth issue?
“We’re viewed as criminals; they think that we steal money. I get threatening letters if I’m a day late submitting my income report â€” computer letters, threatening to cut me off. And the letters are not specific about what documents you need.â€
It seems to me that such letters should come with an advisory: “Failure to submit the proper forms in a timely manner may result in serious injury or death.â€
H. also talked about how hard it is to afford glasses; her eyesight is bad and getting worse, and her prescription costs more than the glasses allowance.
She also knows people who use wheelchairs or scooters, but who can’t afford to pay their share of those costs.
The commission reviewing social assistance in Ontario is headed by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh.
Lankin was an MPP and a cabinet minister; she is also a former head of the United Way Toronto. Sheikh is an economist who was the Chief Statistician of Canada.
They are just wrapping up the initial round of consultations, and will make a preliminary report in December. The final report is due next year.
They should have asked H. to join them on the commission.