London R3 Panel Presentation


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Living On the Edge: Tracking the Experiences of Current and Former Welfare Recipients in Toronto


Study Context Changing Worlds of Welfare and Work From Passive Welfare States to Active Workfare States Emerging Conventions: New Form of Welfare for New Economy Increasing Instability/Risk Risk displaced from state/employer to individual Difficulties meeting basic needs e.g. health/hunger


Panel Study R1: 90 people drawn from caseload in Toronto in September 2002 Older; more likely to be single; longer on assistance; 20% newcomers. Difficulties making ends meet; Problems navigating welfare bureaucracy. R2: 43 participants Older; fewer singles, more single parents; longer on assistance; less educated Ongoing hardship regardless of category: Leavers;Mixers; Cyclers; Stayers: R3: 31 participants Older; singles steady, fewer single parents; fewer long-term unemployed; fewer low education.


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: WORK Working, but Poor Majority of jobs provided little or no financial improvement Minimum wage jobs, few if any benefits. Precarious Work Jobs reported were short-term/insecure Fluctuating hours/pay and bad working conditions No Rewards in Work Work neither financially nor emotionally rewarding Little return on effort, education or skills; especially evident for newcomers.


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: WORK I was lifting 60lb boxes and bags of potatoes all day. I had to do it in a certain time limit to get considered for full-time employment. They wanted me to work overtime, but it took me three hours to get there and back. I was fighting a losing battle, but I had to keep going until something gave way, and it was my health. So I lost again (Keith, #20). I’m falling apart. I’ve got to go to the dentist today and I’ll probably have another tooth pulled, that’s 4 teeth this year. My breathing isn’t good and I’m on medication for that … I had numbness in my arm and the doctor said it was nerve damage. I had to be on physiotherapy and pills for 6 months. It was because of the job and now I’m back on welfare. I’d be better off in jail. You lose your dignity and your pride, you can’t go out, you can’t meet a girl or do anything. Sometimes I can’t [afford to] shave, I feel like a bum (Keith, #20). We’ve been infested with mice and cockroaches. The furnace was broken and we had to be evacuated for carbon monoxide poisoning ... The house is behind a beer store and there’s always trucks. I can’t get sleep properly and all kinds of dust and exhaust fumes come in … The guy upstairs has HIV and is very sloppy. He leaves blood, feces and urine around the toilet (Keith, #20).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: WORK Telemarketing’s changed from my day. We just used to phone people up and ask if they wanted their vacuums fixed or their windows triple pained, nothing like this scam … The product was a business directory and it cost US$375 to get your company name in it for 2 years … It was an assumptive sales approach where you’re leading them to believe that they’ve done this before … It was so sleazy I couldn’t morally do it (Janet, #45). It was dirty, hard work: a demolition job. It was just insane. [The boss] wouldn't pay on time. We were clearing out old insulation from attics and we had to bitch just to get simple masks because of the dust. We were supposed to wear safety boots but we didn’t. I wouldn't want to do that job for very long because I know it wouldn't be good for your health, but I was only concerned with staying alive (Andy, #22) I was working with recovering addicts. I felt like I was finally climbing the ladder and then all of a sudden the ladder was broken. I’ll never forget that day. It was devastating (Angela, #42).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: WORK When I first started working I felt proud, very independent. I felt like I was contributing, doing what a parent should be doing and supporting my family. I was on a high about it for about a year and then I got used to it and it sucked. It was good at first, but it's not a career. It's not something I would want to spend my life doing (Jenny, #1). [Living in poverty] is a big stress on the marriage. We should be enjoying seeing our daughter growing up, but a lot of the time we’re worrying about when we’re going to eat again. Even for the most loving parents there's a bit of resentment towards the husband, towards the child and it takes a huge toll. When you struggle for basic things like food and shelter, it places a strain on everything around you; Everything and Everybody (Jenny, #1). I feel like a failure. Sometimes I feel like I'm going to ruin the rest of my daughters’ life because of the things I've done: the fact that there isn't money for college, there isn't a long-term plan for her. I wish I could have planned more for her...My neighbours are the same. We all get depressed and we all worry … If I'm down or I’m worrying a lot I don't like to go anywhere. I just hide in the house, stay in bed and watch TV (Jenny, #1).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: WORK If I’m patient enough I may have a better chance by applying from inside a big company than applying on the internet ... I have to change three buses and travel an hour each way to reach the job, but I believe it’s worth it and it will let me get into what I want: accounting. My plan is to start from zero, work for a year or so and wait until a position is available at head office when somebody retires or moves on. I have to be patient … (Adriana, #5). When you apply to come to Canada, they have a lot of conditions. First, a university degree. Second, the right working age. Third, good health. Fourth, English. Fifth, enough money. In Canada, $10,000 is not a lot of money but where I’m from $200 is a good salary. So I had to save and save and for what? To be a cashier? I can do more, I’ve proved that. There’s no shame in this job but why don’t we let people do what they are skilled to do? … Why does Canada encourage people with university degrees to come here when they have no way of accessing jobs they are qualified for? If it was just me and my English was bad or I didn’t know how to sell myself that’s one thing, but I’ve spoken with so many people in the same position (Adriana, #5).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HUNGER Fear/Actual Hunger Lack of Quality/Variety of Food Use of Food Banks Welfare Recipients: Special Diet Allowance


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HUNGER I’m not getting proper food. The food banks are overrun and you can’t get a proper meal. I’m sluggish all the time, with no energy. Probably three or four days out of the week I don’t have enough to eat. I get a little bit at the food bank but that doesn’t hold me over. There’s nothing with any protein in it so I just sit there and starve (Keith, #20). There have been many times when I've gone with nothing to eat for a day and a half or two days. If it wasn't for [a local church] I would have been forced to panhandle or steal ... I get frustrated because I'm trying to do something with my life. It’s hard concentrating on studies when your belly is empty (Andy, #22).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HUNGER My daughter looks in the fridge and says, “Mommy you need to go grocery shopping.” I'll say “I don't have to go for a couple of days.” “Mommy, I opened the fridge and it looks empty. It scares me”. My daughter is terrified if she sees a space in the fridge. It doesn't matter if I just put a bunch of containers in the fridge – she feels better (Anna, #80). I needed to see a dentist for the last 8 months. I know dental work is only covered if it’s an emergency, so I’ve let one of my teeth practically rot so that it will be covered as an emergency. Otherwise what am I going to do? Take food out of my kid’s mouth to go to the dentist? (Angela, #42). Its fine and dandy to take care of the kids but what about me. I got really resentful for a long time because I wasn’t frugal and I was spending on my kids and I ended up with nothing (Angela, #42).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HUNGER I've been to the food bank to see what they have – nothing. The shelves are empty and what there is isn’t nutritious. They give you canned foods. No vitamins. Vegetables come in but they're already way past the expiry date. When you eat well, you have stamina and strength. After you eat there you just walk around and you don't really want to do anything. You don't have that extra ... (Kevin, #92) I've noticed at the food bank a lot of people are losing their teeth. They're just yanking them out. That's pretty sad. I already pulled two. Now I'll have to pull one of these so I'm a total mess as far as my teeth go. When I go for a job interview, there's blood coming out of my teeth (Kevin, #92).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HUNGER I don’t always trust whoever’s in the kitchen. I’m paranoid now about getting Hepatitis or TB, especially TB. There are some really sick people who come in … Today at some men’s shelter there was a massive outbreak of TB. When I started volunteering I had to get a TB test and my doctor advised me to get Hepatitis shots just in case (Janet, #45). It’s been getting a lot more violent in the food bank. One of the ex-volunteers was asked to leave because he was extremely rude. He came back in and freaked out and tried to walk out with a case of tuna. One of the volunteers stopped him and they got into a fist fight ... It’s escalating. Saturdays tend to get busy and people get edgy. You sit in somebody’s seat and they’re pissed off about it and scuffles break out (Janet, #45). I’m entitled to an extra $250 for myself and my daughter as part of the special diet. The worker pushed me to go to my doctor and be very firm that I needed this. I was under the impression you had to have something wrong with you to get it and the worker was saying “No, we realize we can’t pay more so just tell your doctor to be creative” and she winked at me. Basically, because I’m volunteering my ass off and taking steps to get employed and they want me to be healthy and productive (Janet, #45).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HEALTH Very high levels of stress High levels of poor self-reported health Deteriorating health Typically participants described: Diabetes, Blood Pressure, Heart Problems, Hepatitis Depression, Anxiety and Seasonal Affective Disorder


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HEALTH I want to work. Nothing else matters. But it’s difficult when you have an underlying situation with your health. It’s been a very trying year for me because there were opportunities to work and I just couldn’t capitalize on them … I have a heart condition and high blood pressure and over the past year I had a lot of complications. It was just horrendous. There were many days that I just couldn’t get out of bed and lead an active job search (Bernard, #2). I worry that I’m eating too much one day and not enough the next. You can’t control things and you become frustrated. Some days you don’t feel like getting up. I wasn’t eating healthy. At that time, milk was a luxury. I wasn’t eating fruits and vegetables. I had to get the cheapest stuff, like macaroni and cheese and spaghetti in a can. When you buy $50 worth of that it looks like a lot, but there’s no nutritional value. There was too much fat and carbohydrates and not enough protein and vitamins. I couldn’t make any savings on my rent so there was no other option. [The supplement] gives me more choice but remember it isn’t mandatory. I have to fight for that every three months (Bernard, #2).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HEALTH I can’t just get past that sick hurdle. Sometimes I can’t breathe. I’m sick of being sick. Sick of being sick … ODSP means you’re finished. You can no longer work. I might be sick for a year or two, but eventually I’ll go back to work. I’m always optimistic. I can’t live like this forever (Evonne, #53). Hunger is a massive worry ... I can’t afford to spend $4.50 to go to a food bank when I can spend that $4.50 on food. The food you’re going to get at a food bank is canned foods we don’t normally eat. I’m not saying a food bank is a waste, but it’s not profitable to spend $4.50 to go to it either (Evonne, #53). I have high cholesterol and because of the heart attack I shouldn’t eat certain things, but we have to buy cheap margarine, for example, and that has all the saturated fats. I just hope for the best and that it doesn’t really have an effect (Evonne, #53).


IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCES: HEALTH When my health problems first started I tried to get work, but things weren’t right. Now I just can’t see who would hire me. Who would hire a person who doesn’t know how they’re going to feel from day to day and has a lot of medical problems? I even tried to do volunteer work but when we discussed my medical problems I was told I wasn’t a good candidate (Mark, #15).   I’m unable to work. I have two doctors saying I can’t work, but I can’t get ODSP because of their criteria. I’m having a hard time doing anything really. I have problems looking after myself, cooking, cleaning and I don’t socialize much. I have a hard enough time scraping up the bus fare to go and see the doctor (Mark, #15). I’m supposed to eat properly. I’ve seen a nutritionist but I can’t afford fresh food, fresh vegetables, fruit and low fat foods because they all cost more money. I can’t afford it. I have to get the staples first. I get what I can but you only get a cheque once a month and that’s it so I might have fresh vegetables for a week and then do without. It’d be nice to be able to go out and buy a coffee and a donut or have lunch at McDonald’s or something like that. Its hard even going out for the day: what am I supposed to do, pack a lunch? (Mark, #15).


LIVING ON THE EDGE Welfare-Work Transitions Trapped in secondary, low-wage labour market. No access to good quality sustainable jobs to escape welfare/poverty. Marginalization despite work Hunger Food only budget can control Marginalization therefore evident not just in fear of hunger but actual hunger Monotonous and compromised diets that lack necessary nutrition Health Range of physical and mental health issues Some only able to work inconsistently Others too sick to work but unable to access ODSP Either way, work-first reforms inadequate to meet needs