Hi there, I’d like to take a moment to introduce my wife and myself to you, Mr. and Mrs. Leech. Well to be perfectly formal and accurate that should be Mr. and Mrs. Leech Upon Society. Not quite as distinguished as other titles perhaps, but it still has a certain cachet, wouldn’t you say?
Yep the wife and I happily suckle at the teat of society’s benevolent tit, living the live of the idle rich. All you poor slobs out there are breaking your backs so your hard earned money can be taken away from you in the form of taxes to pay for our outrageously extravagant lifestyle. I can understand how you must envy and resent us. Who wouldn’t want what we have: the penny pinching, the worry, the non-existent pension plan, and the grade-C foodstuffs.
Just like connoisseurs everywhere, we have to choose between a selection of delectable options: do we pay our utility bill this month, or not buy groceries for a week? Hmmm, tricky, but heck the days are longer, winter is pretty much over; who needs electricity? That’s the good thing about the warmer weather, your options are ever so much better then they were in the winter.
Those of you who are Canadian will ask, “But didn’t the government give you a rebate check for heating costs?” No, they seem to have forgotten that people with zero income should be considered low income Canadians. Only those in receipt of the Child Tax Credit and the Guaranteed Annual Income Supplement (GAINS) for seniors received the rebate. They wanted to make sure that only those most deserving received it.
I can understand how the government wouldn’t want a disabled married couple to receive any extras to make their life easier. You wouldn’t want them forgetting that they’re supposed to be suffering. I mean we’re not well, so we should be used to it right?
We disabled people, we’re already used to suffering, and so what’s a little additional economic hardship? Heck if you’re going to be disabled, you have to expect pain. Isn’t it better that those who are already experiencing troubles should have them compounded instead of loading any on to people who live a carefree existence? Besides we shouldn’t worry those who are actually making a contribution to society, now should we?
It’s a funny thing though you know; Mrs. Leech and myself didn’t plan on this when we got married. She’s been a good little contributor to society, holding down jobs since she was in her teens and paying her taxes every year. I may not have been as good as her, being the lay-about artistic type who never made all that much money, but I’ve worked a long time and paid my share of sales and income tax.
In fact, in the last two years before we got sick, we were an ideal couple. We didn’t have children as deductions, made a taxable income, and had built up a good debt load through our purchase of consumer goods. (Which also meant we had contributed 15 cents on quite a few dollars to the treasuries of both the provincial and federal governments.)
I even managed to increase my debt load when I stopped working. While I was waiting for them to decide whether or not I was disabled, I had to pay for my medications, three to four hundred dollars a month, and somehow also pay for food, rent, and utilities. Considering I was only receiving 55% of my salary through employment insurance sick benefits, this meant each month I was putting out more then I was bringing in. I couldn’t even collect welfare that would have paid for my medications because I was making just a little too much on Employment Insurance to qualify.
When they finally did award me the income support, it took them an additional three months to get around to sending me the first check. At least by then I was able to go on Welfare because my insurance had expired so my medications were being paid for. But our problems didn’t end even when my first check came through from the disability program.
Mrs. Leech was trying to do her part. It was becoming increasingly obvious she shouldn’t be working. The government had turned down her initial application and she worked a part time job. This, despite the fact that it was becoming increasingly obvious she shouldn’t be working. You would think that would have been of some benefit for us, a little extra money coming in and so on, right?
Because of the arcane rules about how much a family member is allowed to earn while one person is receiving a disability pension, and the fact that she had to take a cab to and from work each day due to her inability to walk or cope with public transit, we were lucky to not lose money each month with her working. (They have since changed the system to make it much more conducive for people to work while receiving either disability or Welfare in Ontario, which is a very positive step forward.)
Finally it was recognised that Mrs. Leech wasn’t able to work any more than I was, and so they changed the status of my disability check to being double disabled. What that meant was another $175.00 a month to live on. Yep, Mrs. Leech is worth $175.00 a month to me now, which is actually better then what most life insurance policies are offering, so I’ll be keeping her around for a while longer I guess. (It works both ways; I’m worth more to her alive then as a corpse, too. It’s like those old mutual deterrent games that were played in the Cold War. You couldn’t blow the other person up without hurting yourself…that’s a joke by the way.)
So here we sit with a debt load that we accumulated through no fault of our own, (oh all right we could have gone without eating, or been evicted, or froze to death but we didn’t consider those viable options) dealing with illnesses that make getting through a day without stress a struggle, and faced with having to move because we can no longer afford to live in the slum we live in now.
We’ve cut so close to the bone as it is that we’ve started to whittle off some of the cartilage. Probably the only luxury we’re not prepared to give up is the $20.00 a month we pay for dial-up Internet service. Without that, both my wife and I would go insane. Anyway it’s one of the few things that haven’t gone up in price.
It’s stayed the same price for the last five years, $19.95 a month plus tax for unlimited Internet. It’s too bad the same can’t be said about the rest of the world. In the last year I’ve watched the price of a brick of cheese go from $4.99 to $6.70. Those of you who are mathematically inclined can figure that out as a percentage if you want, but I already know it’s higher than any increase in the disability pensions.
Back in the early nineties, (1990’s not the 1890’s), disability support payments had an annual cost of living increase of around 1%. It doesn’t sound like much, but every little bit adds up. From 1993 until 2005, disability and welfare payments were either frozen or cut by up to 20%. Even those programs whose payments weren’t cut were seeing their purchasing power reduced at rate of around 2% per annum. (On average, the annual cost of living increase.)
That works out to be almost a 25% reduction in those twelve years. If you were to factor in the loss of the annual increase of 1% as well, the reduction increases to 36%, or more than a third of its value lost to cost of living increases. That’s pretty bad in of itself, but there are other factors to consider as well.
In the mid to late 1990’s, the Ontario government revamped its rent control legislation giving landlords incredible freedom to charge whatever they liked for rental units. While it’s true they couldn’t increase the rent of an existing tenant by more then a certain amount, any time an apartment came available they could raise the rent on that unit by whatever amount they wanted.
The theory was that market forces would control the rents, preventing landlords from charging too much. But the reality is that people have to have a place to live, and you will pay what’s necessary to keep you and your family off the street. When the vacancy rate is less then 1%, a landlord is able to ask $800.00 per month for a one-room apartment, with a separate bathroom and kitchen if you are lucky, and find someone desperate enough to rent it.
Now Mrs. Leech and myself receive the maximum you can get for shelter as a couple because we are both disabled. To pay for our rent and utilities we receive $654.00 a month. That should leave us with a sizable shortfall when it comes to renting a place to live, don’t you think?
What about geared to income housing? What about it? The waiting list is a minimum of five years; most of the units are built in isolated parts of town and have turned into havens for drug dealers or welfare ghettos. They are places filled with hopelessness and despair, perpetuating cycles of endless poverty.
They seem built for only one reason: to provide a place to hide the poor and disabled away from the rest of society’s sight. They’re a sop to liberal consciences and it lets governments say they’re doing something, but all they do is deepen the divisions in society and provide people with excuses for failure.
Like I said earlier, Mrs. Leech and myself didn’t plan on getting sick and becoming incapacitated; it just happened. I’m incredibly grateful that there is some sort of system in place at all for assisting people like us who are in dire straits. The people who work in the offices do the best they can for us, in spite of having their hands tied by regulations that seem intent on making life difficult for their clients.
But being grateful does not prevent me from seeing how bad our situation is and how the needs of disabled people in Ontario, and I assume elsewhere, are being neglected. Of course, there are people who take advantage of the system, just as there are wealthy people who take advantage of the tax system so they can make millions of dollars a year and not pay a cent in income tax.
How often to you hear the government or the pundits talking about all the income they lose from those people? Why is it only the poor and sick that are blamed and made to pay for the economic woes of society? If my wife and I are considered leeches on society, why are people who routinely get out of paying the government annually more money then they pay me in five years considered pillars of society?
There are those who complain about welfare cheats and people faking illnesses. How many of the complainants are trying to figure out ways they can avoid paying taxes? How many of the people who tell the government that they have to reduce social spending to make ends meet have their salary deferred as share options so they don’t have to pay a single cent in taxes? They live in extravagant homes and drive luxury automobiles, which are paid for through their businesses and written off as expenses on tax returns. They deprive the government of thousands if not millions of dollars in tax revenue, but have no problem condemning those who have to choose between eating and paying rent.
Yet these people are thought of as astute business minds while someone who makes a hundred dollars under the table to try and feed their family is considered a thief and goes to jail for welfare fraud. We’re told that business leaders are important because they create jobs and are the backbone of the economy. But when times get tough, do they take a cut in pay?
Nope. At the first sign their profits might be in trouble, they lay off workers and increase the numbers of people who are dependant on the system for help and put more of a burden on the taxpayers. When these people talk about protecting the right of taxpayers, they are really talking about protecting the rights of those who manage to avoid paying taxes.
Politicians need a scapegoat when things go wrong. They have to blame somebody for the ills of society. Do you really think they are about to blame the people who put them in office? Who makes the big donations to the major political parties? People who are disabled or on Welfare, or the Chief Executive Officer of a major corporation?
Our society treats people in need like criminals because they aren’t in a position to fight back. They have no other recourse but to accept what they are given and try their best to survive on the little that is. Mrs Leech and myself have been doing that now for close to three years, and each year the hole we are in grows a little deeper. It would be nice if, occasionally, the politicians and pundits would led us a hand instead of throwing dirt in on top of us, burying us deeper.