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Local Angle: Sometimes welfare is a person's best option

The expansion of welfare rolls across the Flin Flon region is bound to spark indignation.

The expansion of welfare rolls across the Flin Flon region is bound to spark indignation.

Government stats show that for the year ended February 2013, a monthly average of 436 people were on provincial welfare in Flin Flon, Snow Lake, Cranberry Portage and among non-treaty residents in Pukatawagan.

For the year ended March 2017, the number was 582. That’s an increase of 146 people, or 33 per cent, in just four years. Broken down further, the system is now adding one new welfare client every 10 days in our region.

Or more. These figures do not include First Nations band welfare, which is separate from provincial welfare, and it’s possible the number of residents on this form of support is also rising.

Welfare recipients are frequently treated with disdain in our community. Even some of the most benevolent people I know gripe about “welfare bums.”

Opposition to welfare is so fierce and widespread that it helped the otherwise unelectable Donald Trump become US president, as illustrated by a 2016 Washington Post article.

The piece referred to working-class Trump voters who perceive that “the lazy and less deserving are getting a bigger chunk of government cheese” and who complain of moms who “pop out babies like Pez dispensers” and get “their housing paid for [and] their food.”

An underprivileged woman’s obvious right to have children notwithstanding, it should be noted that in some cases, both the welfare recipient and society at large reap the most benefit by having an individual on assistance.

Consider an uneducated single mom with three small children. If she really had to, perhaps she could scramble between low-paying jobs while covering her rent and paying other people to raise her kids.

Or she could utilize the modest safety net in place to ensure her children have the stability of a stay-at-home mom, not to mention a guarantee her family’s basic needs will be met.

Which option will most help these children know a normal, loving childhood under already-difficult circumstances? Which option gives this family the best foundation for future success?

Other welfare recipients have addictions, such as alcoholism, that prevent them from acquiring or holding down a job.

I know what some of you are saying: “Tough luck, buddy! Sober up and quit asking for my money!”

In reality, addicts live each day waiting for their next fix. They usually don’t just “sober up” with the snap of their fingers. That’s not how it works among addicts who are gainfully employed; there’s no reason to expect this from addicts who scrape by on assistance.

A decision to cut an alcoholic off of welfare may well put that individual on the street rather than magically compel him to sober up. And as we’ve seen firsthand here in Flin Flon, social problems abound when alcoholics are left homeless.

In other situations, families are actually better off financially if they go on welfare and its ancillary benefits, particularly if they cannot find a decent-paying job.

Illness can also force families onto welfare. If a family member has a sickness that requires costly prescription drugs or extensive travel, at some point the pros of social assistance outweigh the cons.

Of course our welfare system is imperfect, and of the tiny percentage of people who are on assistance, some are undoubtedly abusing the system.

But on the whole, welfare is a vital helping hand extended to vulnerable people. Judging those who rely on this safety net does nothing to help them stand on their own two feet; it merely reinforces the low sense of self worth that often accompanies welfare dependence.

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