Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 4, 2006
Welfare recipients need a hand up
In 1995, then-Finance Minister Paul Martin declared war on the federal deficit. Martin's largest cut was $7 billion in transfer payments to the provinces to be used to pay for health, education and social assistance. In Alberta, the cutting had already begun in one of the biggest slash-and-burn operations in Canadian governmental history.
Soon, government budgets began to run large surpluses and tax cuts were announced, cuts that were of greatest benefit to those with high incomes. Those on the low end of the income spectrum were pretty much forgotten.
On Aug. 24, the National Council on Welfare documented the financial effects of welfare cuts across the country. In Alberta the income of a single person on welfare has been cut almost in half since 1986 to $4,824 a year. That would buy a person . . . well, not very much.
If you think every single employable person in this province with a serious labour shortage should get a job then look at the plight of single parents. Lone-parent families in Alberta get $12,326 a year from the province's euphemistic "Supports for Independence." What a pathetic job of supporting those in Alberta's next generation who need a helping hand today!
Entertainment expenses for businesses are tax deductible. The province is rolling in billions of surpluses. But if you're a child whose mom is collecting welfare, there is a good chance you will go to school hungry or suffer an illness that will keep you at home.
Political leaders insulate themselves from the reality of the situation. "The emphasis should be on finding work for the employable to instill within those people a sense of dignity and a sense of hope," Premier Ralph Klein told the legislature.
"Those who really want to work and are employable, we'll assist you in every way, shape and form."
This is fine as far as it goes. There is a far greater sense of self-worth in having a job than in being on welfare. The province's current economic boom offers opportunities for many people to work their way out of the welfare trap.
But if the province really wants to give a hand up rather than a hand out, why does Alberta have the lowest minimum wage in Canada? As well, it was only after a public outcry last year that the provincial government raised the monthly allowance for the severely handicapped - most of whom have no possibility of finding work - to $1,000 a month.
In 1989, the House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution pledging to end child poverty by 2000. Since then, the number of children in poverty has increased significantly. Today, almost a third of the 1.7 million Canadians living on social assistance are children.
This is not just a social problem; it is a spiritual crisis. We will be judged on how we treat the least of our brothers and sisters. This is as true for a nation as for an individual.
The soul of a nation can be seen not in the growth in the gross national product, but by how it treats the poor, the lonely and the sick. By that measure, the National Council on Welfare has shown us to be a spiritually impoverished country.
Canada needs an all-out national campaign to eliminate poverty. Involve not only government, but especially voluntary organizations and the private sector.
Build strong families, many more headstart programs and better schools. Give everyone a sense of dignity and hope by ensuring that those born into poverty today get all the resources and education they need to have a bright future.
Right now, the level of that help is far too meagre. But the main legacy society's leaders should be interested in is creating a better life for those who today are on society's margins.
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 09/25/06
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.