“Attack poverty, not the poor” – demonstration about Welfare
This was the message that came very loudly from the organizers of a press conference in front of the Tour de la Bourse building on Victoria Sq. this past Tuesday. “Over the last five years, both the Pauline Marois (PQ) and the Philippe Couillard (Liberal) governments have repeatedly attacked our welfare system with a series of heartless cutbacks,” said Sheetal Pathak, a community organizer from Project Genesis. Then the speaker focused on the new minister in charge of welfare, Jean Boulet. The demand from this group that defends the rights of welfare recipients is that instead of making cuts to the people who happen to be on social assistance, the new CAQ government focuses on the causes of poverty. From there, the government should devise policies that could help people on welfare to come out of their situation, but not to penalize them, as it has been the case with the application of policies that cut their benefits and therefore make their situation worse.
The organizers of the press conference have some impressive figures to back their demands: the current poverty percentage rate in the province is 13.1, and in Montreal, that figure goes up to 16.1 per cent. The basic monthly social assistance allowance in Quebec for a single person is now $648, while according to Statistics Canada the basic consumer basket for a single person should be $1,529 per month.
Ms. Pathak also pointed to other inequities in the current welfare system, such as the 2013 removal of people aged between 55 to 58, from the Temporary Limitations to Employment category, enacted during the PQ government. This action resulted in a loss of $134 per month for those affected. Couples with children under the age of five were also removed from this category which meant a cut of about $231 per month.
Welfare is a monthly program, not a yearly program, so it’s difficult to make comparisons with a yearly salary. However, in general, any couple where the total income is 20,000 dollars a year (spread evenly over the year) would not be eligible for welfare as their income is far too high according to welfare (even though they would still be well under the poverty line).
For a couple, welfare would start deductions from the welfare cheque at 3,600 dollars a year of income (spread equally over 12 months, that’s only 300 dollars a month). The couple would be kicked off welfare once they are making a total income of 15,540 dollars a year (spread equally over 12 months).
The Liberal government of Philippe Couillard for its part, when announced its Objectif Emploi program, which forced first-time welfare applicants to undergo job training it seems that its goal, more than prepare people for jobs, was merely to cut their cheques, which actually could be reduced up to $324 a month. The government also imposed travel restrictions in 2015, aimed at preventing people from leaving the province for more than seven consecutive days in a calendar month. That same year another cut of $125 per month, to their welfare benefits was introduced if they were living with more than one roommate, the assumption was that they would be making money off their “boarder.”
Arié Moyal, a welfare beneficiary who also spoke at the press conference make a strong appeal to dismiss the stigma associated with those who are living on social assistance. He also addressed the political issue behind that perception which is sometimes reinforced by social attitudes. Instead, he drew the attention to the big corporations that benefit from large amounts of money in the form of low-interest loans, tax exemptions, and other benefits that the government gives them.
The tone of the meeting was then to put an emphasis on the people, as Ms. Pathak remarked at the end of her address, “We’ll be back because the treatment of the most marginalized people in our society is too important an issue to ignore.”
Feature image: The organizers display their banners before the start of the press conference held at Tour de la Bourse building on Victoria Sq. this past Tuesday.