Welfare system traps people in poverty

Former social assistance intake worker tells of experiences

Re: The aggression of welfare (News, June 19)

I appreciate Danielle Pope’s article on the injustices disability welfare recipients endure. Formerly a hospital social worker, I often helped welfare patients. The link between poverty and health was clear: the poorer the patient the worse the health. I heard many stories of harsh welfare workers.

Decades ago I worked as an intake worker. Intake workers are overwhelmed, hemmed in by restrictive regulations that permit exhausted workers to punish desperately frustrated welfare recipients who express outrage at the demeaning treatment that characterizes B.C.’s welfare program.

Welfare presumes people don’t really deserve help. It shames and blames recipients, presumed fit for work and the cause of their own unemployment. There’s little understanding of damage caused by chronic illness, mental health challenges, job injuries, childhood abuse, poor education and addictions.

People with poor coping skills, limited family support and serious health issues must survive on $610 per month. If they get disability status (the request is often initially refused), income increases to $906 per month. I challenge welfare supervisors to live on $906. Inexorably, the stress of inadequate welfare leads to further addiction, criminal behaviour and (punishable) outrage at the welfare system’s injustice.

We need a guaranteed annual income matching Canada’s poverty line: $18,400 in 2009, after taxes. That’s $7,500 more than what B.C. disability recipients get. We trap people in poverty, with insufficient funds to address health problems, safe housing or educational needs. This costs every Canadian taxpayer $2,100 per year in additional health and social services for those kept in poverty.

By providing an annual income (taxed away if earning more than the poverty line), we can provide educational opportunity, better health and secure housing while reducing social costs when these needs are not met.

Let’s end the shame of keeping people imprisoned in poverty. It’s cheaper to do the right thing.

Hendrik de Pagter