Saturday, February 19, 2005

Welfare and Self Respect

Today the Toronto Star kindly published one of my letters. I was responding to an article written by their fine columnist Royson James about a recent national task force which has been formed to study the supposedly frayed state of Canada’s welfare system. The following expands on my letter.

When the government forms a task force to study welfare, we can all be sure of one thing - the resulting report will moan and groan about how welfare recipients are so hard-done-by in Canada. It will paint them all as victims and chastise Canadians for not doing enough to help them.

This will be the message. It is inevitable. After all, here in Canada only one side of the story ever gets told. The government funded side. The Liberal side. The side that blames every negative outcome in Canada on everyone except the person experiencing the outcome. And the side that always has the same solution - expand or create publicly funded programs to save people from the pesky responsibility of taking ownership of their own lives.

Think about it, when was the last time you heard anyone, funded by the government, speak up against the welfare state and actually lay some of the blame on the welfare recipients themselves. Never, that’s when. Always, our government funding goes to people who paint welfare recipients as poor unfortunate victims. No one is ever chastised or told to make more of an effort. Never is it suggested that freedom and opportunity is everywhere and able bodied people on welfare should be ashamed of themselves. Gasp. Heavens no. That would hurt their self esteem.

And never should we ask people on welfare how they got there. After all, we already know the answer. It’s society’s fault. Even if it’s young women who purposely get pregnant just to get a ‘free’ apartment away from their parents. (And don’t think this doesn’t happen. I have heard of several such situations just from my small circle of relatives and friends). We may know that these people exist, but we must never point it out in public or we will be shamed and vilified as cold, cruel and un-Canadian.

Clearly, welfare is a social necessity. It must exist because some people have a legitimate need for it. Especially disabled and elderly people. As well as people who need a temporary leg-up. However, we must not fool ourselves, welfare is also an insidious trap – a shining attraction to the less resolute and ethical in our society. Some people take lifelong comfort in it and use it to live a life free from effort and discipline. Some end up on welfare because they take silly chances and make inappropriate life decisions that they would not have otherwise made if the welfare net was not there to catch them and absolve them of their stupidity. For some, welfare is not just an end, it is also a means.

This, I think, should be what we study. We need to know how people came to be on welfare. We need to ask the hard questions. How many girls get pregnant and immediately go on the dole? How many have additional babies while on welfare? How many welfare recipients have parents who were also on welfare and who saw it as an easy way to get through life. How many are on welfare because they choose to drink too much or do drugs? How many are just plain unmotivated and lazy? And, most notably, how many able bodied recipients actually avoid working because they feel they are better off on welfare.

I have always suspected that families on welfare have it pretty good in comparison with a lot of people who work at low wage jobs. I see it all the time. Their children dress the same as the kids of working parents. They eat as much take-out food and they have the same DVD collections. And while low wage working parents make an effort to contribute to society, our government punishes them by taking their taxes to provide non-contributing welfare families with free dental and drugs, generous clothing and rental allowances and higher GST and child tax credit kickbacks.

And yesterday I read a comment that confirmed my worst fear. The co-chair of the task force mentioned above was quoted as saying that, given the abundance of generous benefits associated with welfare, it is a wonder that any rational person on welfare would want to work, unless they can make $12 or $13 an hour. Let’s see if I understand this correctly.

What he is saying is that only irrational people work for less than $12 or $13 an hour. Rational people go on welfare and get all the freebies.

Geez. I wonder what happened to self-respect?

People used to be proud to contribute to our society, pay taxes and earn their own keep. It was what gave them self respect. Even a minimum wage job was better than living off the efforts of others. But those days are gone, I guess. In today’s Canada a minimum wage job is for suckers while welfare is a badge of honour reflecting the intelligence and superior discretionary abilities of the welfare recipient.

Apparently we have reached the point in the development of our welfare nanny state where we, as individual Canadians, would trade the self respect and dignity that comes from earning our own keep for a few extra dollars in welfare handouts.

Something is very wrong with the system when it encourages such irresponsible, shameful behavior. It’s a good thing that there was no welfare a few hundred years ago when our nation was being built. Heavens knows, most people would have chosen to go on the dole rather than work for low wages. And we’d still be living in sod huts.


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