Disability / Personal Is Political

On the Subject of Poverty

Today, I came across one of my friends on Facebook, expressing support for the idea proposed by the following image:


I’m on welfare now and have been previously. In the time I wasn’t in need of support either from the Ministry of Social Development or Human Resources And Employment Canada, I was on student loans,  studying everything from pre-med to feminism. I also spent a lot of time moving in and out of relationships in which I was financially co-dependent, and this is something I’m not even slightly proud of.

While I was studying feminism, when my student loans had grown to about $30,000 of personal obligation to my government (I now owe nearly twice as much), I encountered a paper about the social construction of disability. Part of the paper discussed the perception of disabled persons who are reliant on social security, welfare, welfare-to-work, social services, disability, income assistance, or pension; as pathetic, lazy, societal leeches who just take everyone’s tax dollars and squander it.

In the paper “The Social Construction of Disability”, Susan Wendell writes that “[she] see[s] disability as socially constructed in ways ranging from social conditions that straightforwardly create illnesses, injuries, and poor physical functioning, to subtle cultural factors that determine standards of normality and exclude those who do not meet them from full participation in their societies.” I literally could not have stated this better or more clearly in my own words. A lot of people (such as myself) live dependent on government assistance, because of disability and because of everyone else’s flagrant disregard for how disability affects daily life and functioning, and we have to work really hard to live on those meagre cheques.

Seeking medical help, using public transportation to access it (because forget about driving your own car or taking a taxi), and counting every penny you have to your name, becomes your job. You don’t get to take time off your job, because you have to sell whatever resources you have. Even if your hours are flexible, you don’t have the privilege of putting it down after a long day at it. And how much do you have to support yourself while you tend to your job responsibilities day after day?

My government allows me $610 a month. That’s less than $8,000 a year.

I pay $450 rent (the cheque is sent directly to the property management company, and I don’t have my own room). I can’t afford a bus pass, so I use tickets, and those tickets are almost exclusively spent getting to and from weekly and monthly doctors’ appointments. I also have to have my blood taken in regularly scheduled lab tests, to monitor my thyroid and liver functions, as well as the saturation of iron in my blood, and whole blood analysis. Those trips require bus tickets too. And because I’m prone to injury for a number of invisible reasons — including hypermobility of all the joints in my body, testosterone injections, and that my budget doesn’t allow me the means  to increase my caloric intake so that I can safely exercise (and not become anorexic again) — when I need to drop off my deposit stub, I have to use bus tickets for that too.

Presently, that means I might as well knock off another $42 from my government assistance benefits, because it’s going to the public transit program. And the public transit program? They just proposed another 12% hike in the cost of accessing it. Until I am granted disability status, this will perpetuate. And when I first got on welfare again for the second time? I had appointments at 5:10 a.m. — before the start of transit service. That meant a $20 cab fare to access desperately needed medical help, and that was every week. I had to sell everything I owned that I could part with, and beg, just to cover the expense.

What’s left over from my government assistance benefits after rent and bus tickets? Just $118 — with which I still need to cover my electricity, internet, and groceries, for an entire month. If I didn’t have two roommates and a few generous friends to help me buy groceries, I’d be dead from starvation. Or homeless. Or dead from starvation and homelessness.

But I also have to pay for a bank account so that my benefits are received by me, in full, instead of paying a cheque-cashing company part of it every month (and also so that I can retrieve occasional help through PayPal). And that costs $14 because I can’t get everything done in 10 transactions or less, and a less expensive bank account (to save all of $6.00?) would mean $1.00 service charges for every transaction over the 10 permitted transactions. Because guess who pays all the bills in this household? You’re looking at their writing.

That leaves me with $100 to contribute to keep the electricity running, the internet connected, and my belly at least half full. The two credit cards I had were both maxed out and shut down within six months, and my bank is taking away my overdraft too. In fact, yesterday, I also received a notice warning me of the suspension of internet service to my apartment, on top of that. I don’t have anything left to sell to cover that bill, and my overdraft (which will soon be taken away) is completely depleted.

—-

Ten years ago, my government only allowed me $402 a month, unless I could definitively prove that I had a medical disability that prevented me from working. And doctors looked at me like I was faking everything, so I would only be on medical leave from work for three months at a time, increasing my total benefits to a whopping $535. Is it any wonder I wound up homeless twice?

Back to Wendell for a moment:

“Poverty is the single most disabling social circumstance for people with disabilities, since it means that they can barely afford the things that are necessities for non-disabled people, much less the personal care, medicines, and technological aids they made need to live decent lives outside institutions, or the training or education or transportation or clothing that might enable them to work or to participate more fully in public life.”

She also states quite clearly that the rationale behind how little my government pays people like me to live, is the principle of incentive. The government figures that as long as they are paying less than one would earn working full-time in the work force at a minimum wage job, you’ll have all the incentive you need to get the fuck off the system and stop taking everyone else’s tax dollars while they make demotivational posters, such as the one at the beginning of this journal entry, to put you down during their paid lunch break.

Well… For people like me, it doesn’t work out that way. Working full-time would mean I don’t have enough time left over to access medical help, such as my weekly psychotherapy appointments, appointments with my two family doctors, appointments with the nurse and doctor at the gender clinic I attend, laboratory testing, and other diagnostic testing such as that ultrasound appointment I had that will certainly be a recurring event as long as I still have these organs inside my body. And the only way to get them removed? Go see another psychologist to have my mental health status assessed for whether or not I am sufficiently able to deliberate a decision such as the one I am demanding. And even if I didn’t have the gender clinic to attend, wasn’t taking testosterone to chemically transition to masculine gender? I’d still be having debilitating episodes of lower back pain, pelvic pain, knee pain, and constant vomiting that prevent me from working a full day. And when that surgery I need finally happens? You better believe I can’t be scrubbing floors and toilets 8 hours a day all week. I have appointments to keep.

It is my hope at this point that, when I take issue with someone else, declaring in their infinite wisdom that I should be subjected to a urine test so that I can collect what’s left of that $610 every month and have a roof over my head, that it is understood why.

But allow me to be even clearer. I don’t have enough money with that $610 to buy booze, pot, hash, meth amphetamine, heroin, or even cough syrup containing guaifenesin. No one does. Welfare isn’t paying for people to be addicted to drugs, because it’s busy paying us just enough to starve into a deep depression, while isolating us from participating in public life except when we con our way onto public transit while everyone else on the bus looks on with glaring disapproval and rolling eyes.

And for the record, you don’t qualify for welfare benefits when you’re homeless.

I learned a lot about how people actually do afford booze, cocaine, crack, heroin, speedballs, pot, meth, shrooms, and various other narcotic substances when I was homeless. One person broke into people’s houses and hammered down copper pipes to sell it for scrap metal to support his drug habit. Other people went with him and stole anything they could pawn. The marked majority of women in the homeless shelter spent their days turning tricks to earn the money they needed to prevent withdrawal from their chosen narcotic; and some supplemented the need for cash by turning tricks directly with drug dealers and their runners, or by accessing drugs through pimps (who then took all their money away for them–what nice men they are!)

There’s a reason there’s at least one guy a year, who gets mentioned in the paper because he died trying to rip scrap metal out of electrical service provider equipment. And some of those drug dealers and drug runners simply borrow money without the intent to ever pay it back (often using it to move across the country in order to escape debt with drug dealers higher up in the supply chain). Most often, the people who are vulnerable enough to lend it to them desperately need it back, because let’s be serious, the drug dealers and drug runners aren’t asking for a couple hundred dollars for a couple hours from multi-millionaires.

Maybe if welfare benefits double, then it’s time to talk about urinalysis for traces of substance abuse. Until then, shut the fuck up. The actual number of welfare recipients who are abusing drugs is very minimal, compared to the number of welfare recipients who need it because they were injured on the job and put to pasture, or have suffered from a medical disability since before they entered the work force at the cost of becoming disabled.

If you want to know what you could better spend all your time whining about how your tax dollars are affected, it’s drug legalization and drug centralization. And that’s a subject for another journal entry entirely. Count your privileges, and stop taking everything away from the people who have nothing.

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