But, you see, that’s not the point

Recently, a few of the folks on whose eff-lists Yours Truly may appear on the effbook have indicated their affinity for groups like: “If I have to take a drug test to qualify for a job, you should have to take a drug test to qualify for Welfare”. This really makes me angry. I know there will be people who comment here, perhaps not in favour of this precise sentiment, but certainly in favour of shrinking the social safety nets we have in this country, in favour of non-governmental, non-tax-based programmes to address social issues. I respect your opinion, and staunchly disagree.

But what makes me mad about this particular sentiment is multifold.

First, welfare is not a job. It should not be compared to a job. It should not, in my opinion, be considered income. Welfare ought to be considered support for those incapable of supporting themselves, whether that is in the raw form of dirty government money, food stamps, subsidised housing, what have you. It is not a job. It is a system by which we, as humans, provide for those other humans who can not provide for themselves.

Second, failing a drug test presents a liability for your employer. Which is why they don’t want to hire a junkie. Many of the people who are on welfare would probably fail that drug test, and *that is why they are on welfare*. Because our mental health system has failed them, because our addictions programmes have failed them, because our legal system has failed them, and because our society has failed them. It’s pretty tough, f’rinstance, to ‘get over’ alcoholism or other substance addictions if you can’t get in to a detox program because the hospitals don’t offer them, the closest one is two hours away, and after five days of detox you’re tossed back out on the street and left to your own recognizance to get your arse to treatment. Which is also not available to you.

Third, yes, I understand that some of you are bitter that weed isn’t legal and you take umbrage with the idea that your prospective employers oughtn’t have the right to be proscriptive with the way you choose to live your life. And fair enough. You have the power, here. You can choose not to apply to work for someone (say, the government) who does mandatory drug testing, or you can choose to quit doing drugs while you work for them. It’s pretty simple, really.

I have a few friends who seem to think that the world owes them something, who really seem to believe that it’s !Not Fair! that they are not living the kind of life they would like to live. But at the same time they are unwilling to do something about it, so their bitching and moaning really amounts to a hill of beans. More to the point, as far as I’m concerned, they can hold their hand out and wait for the world to give them what they want, and poop in their other hand, and see which hand fills up first. Which is, of course, just a really fancy way of saying ‘grow up and face the truth; no one deserves a free ride’.

And welfare, my friend, is not a free ride. There are those who seriously have a hate-on for the idea that there are people out there who “don’t have to work; they get their house and their daycare paid for and so all they do all day is sit around and do drugs and spend their food money on beer and my tax dollars pay their rent”. I kind of feel bad for the folks who say those kinds of things, because I don’t think many of them have ever lived in poverty.

And yeah, I’ll concede that the welfare system in this country could really be a lot better managed and delivered. I think it is ridiculous every time I hear someone say “I’m going to leave home and live on the dole and then I won’t have to do anything with my life but watch TV and eat take-away”. I mean, first, what a horrible life. Second, good luck being able to afford TV and take-away. Third, you’re part of the problem.

But, back to my original point. If you are suggesting rescinding Welfare for addicts, do you think people decide to become addicts so they can live in the lap of luxury on Welfare? Do you think the life of an addict living on Welfare is so much better than yours, now that you’ve had to give up dope to be gainfully employed? I mean, feel free to start selling your body on the streets so you can earn enough money for a bag so you can deal with having to sell your body on the streets so you can earn enough money for a bag.

So, my problem is this: people who say things like “if I have to take a drug test to get a job; then people should have to take a drug test to get welfare” either don’t grok Welfare and what it’s *supposed* to be for, or they don’t grok addiction, or they think they’re being cute.

  15 comments for “But, you see, that’s not the point

  1. 26 August 2010 at 10:34 am

    Having lived on welfare while too unstable to work over 15 years ago, I can tell you that it is nowhere even in the vicinity of the lap of luxury. The money you get is minimal. I had $195/month for utilities, laundry, food, and, clothing. That was less than $50/week. Job hunting without being able to afford a decent interview outfit or a full monthly bus pass meant trucking across town on foot in ill-fitting clothes or spending my food money and hoping that the food bank had more than day old donuts to hand out during one of the two monthly visits it allowed. Welfare was not an easy answer or a comfortable one, and it is a way of living that I hope I never ever have to revisit.

    People who bitch about how those on welfare have it easy speak from a point of ignorant privilege, not an informed understanding of how the system works and why people need and use the system in the first place.

    They’re lucky.

    • 26 August 2010 at 10:52 am

      I know, right? And to add to that the idea that people who need Welfare must also, if they are addicted, *qualify* for it by first getting clean, most likely without any support or services to do so?

      I don’t think there are enough “In”s in ‘insulting’…

  2. Jubajuice
    26 August 2010 at 11:23 am

    I’ve been in this discussion many times over the years, and have developed a list of who I think should and should not get welfare.

    Should:
    -People who’ve had a run of bad luck and are trying to get it together.
    -Those who *honestly* can’t work for one reason or another.

    Should not:
    Those who can work, but choose not to.
    People who pop out kids just for the money.

    • 26 August 2010 at 4:52 pm

      People who ‘pop out kids just for the money’ are clearly mentally ill. Do people really do that? I know people take in foster kids for the money, and then leave the kids wanting for clothes, food, and school supplies.

      I worked with Habitat for Humanity for a year, and so I know of what I speak.

  3. Mike McCall
    26 August 2010 at 11:46 am

    While I’m certainly on the side of having a social safety net, and not shrinking it, there is a germ of truth in the statement ““If I have to take a drug test to qualify for a job, you should have to take a drug test to qualify for Welfare”. In the statement itself, mind, not the movement behind it.

    If we live in a society where it’s okay for employers to investigate your private activities in order to ensure in advance that you’re not a liability (and I’m not so sure I’m happy with that one), then it follows (for me at least) that the government, in administrating welfare, has a right to investigate your private activities for problem areas. Not with an eye towards disqualifying you, but to ensure that you get the treatment and support that you need to deal with those issues.

    I am fully aware (oh boy am I) that we live in a society which would prefer to shove the poor, the disturbed and the problematic under the rug. And I’m not in favor of drug testing for welfare recipients — because it would be misused and abused. But in a sane world, the first thing that would happen when someone applied for welfare would be a thorough investigation of the hows and whys. The second thing would be a plan to help them.

  4. TUO
    26 August 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Oh, I’ve got a better one, “If I have to be in my office during the core hours of 10 AM to 3 PM and follow a dress code, you should have to be in my office during the core hours of 10 AM to 3 PM and follow a dress code to qualify for Welfare!”

  5. 26 August 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I can’t possibly agree more. Even if you aren’t addicted, there is no way that Welfare is the lap of luxury. I find it very horrible that while you are required to try to make your life better and “get off” of welfare, there is very little in the way of resources available to you to do it. As Schmutzie, I was on welfare, first as an abused spouse and mother and then later as a single mother. When you have to choose between getting to your interviews in a manner that makes you seem both dependable and presentable and feeding your family, the very prospect of getting a job can seem daunting and even impossible. Which brings me to another social net which is the childcare subsidy which hasn’t increased much since the 80’s. Where it once covered 90% of low income individual’s childcare costs, it now covers less than 60% and when you are making minimum wage because you are required to look for and take a job even if it is low paying, then becomes the choice between having a job and not feeding your children or staying on welfare and hoping you don’t get cut off. The education they will help fund won’t give you a job as a waitress. Which leads me to the fact that once you do have your waitress job, it is likely shift work and there are very few licensed daycares you can apply for subsidy to which have “off” hours. THEN, to top it all off, you get treated by society in general and the very system you have come to depend on as if you ARE an addict, even if you aren’t. I wouldn’t doubt if some people end up with such low self esteem and depression that they start self medicating with drugs and alcohol. We need to take a good hard look at the system and make some changes. Support needs to be more than just handing someone a tiny cheque and pushing them back out of the office. Support needs to be recognizing the problems and assisting those people in that welfare office with their chemical dependencies OR nurturing those who DO have ambition and drive so that they never need to be there again. The hardest thing I ever had to do in my life was apply for welfare.

    Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

  6. 26 August 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Your points are good. I wonder if you have Australian influence in your life if you use “take-away” for “take out”.

    I’m easily angered by insensitive and ignorant facebook groups too, but it goes with having a conscience and reading more news in a week than average people absorb in a year.

    I’ve also have minor run ins with ignorant snobs when they read something like what you or I write about poverty issues http://saskboy.wordpress.com/2010/05/10/dumpster-diving-is-political/

  7. Stark Raving Dad
    26 August 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Ceno, I really want to agree with everything you say, but we both know that isn’t going to happen.

    Wait… damn, it happens all the time. So why change now.

    Anyone who thinks addiction is a fun ride should head to an NA meeting. The stories they hear there might just open their eyes to the world of pain, loneliness and personal degradation that addicts live in.

    And I challenge anyone to live on the insignificant amount of money that welfare pays. Try it for three months. Pay your rent, utilities, groceries and make sure your kids have shoes for about $400 a month. Good luck with that. Lap of luxury to be sure.

  8. Cheruby
    27 August 2010 at 12:04 am

    A friend of mine once worked for an organization that had an interesting take on welfare recipients and people who “don’t want to work”. Basically, the program was training to be employed. The program classifies people according to how able to get and hold a job they are. On the top rung of the ladder are people like my eye doctor who get up super-early and will readily work the rest of their lives. On the bottom are people who are so mentally ill that they will be on welfare or institutionalized for the rest of their lives. But the rung just above includes welfare recipients who could work but currently lack such skills necessary to holding a job as:

    1. Not getting drunk and staying up all Sunday night.
    2. Eating something before you go to work so you’re not spacey and grouchy.
    3. Getting to work on time.
    4. Being polite.

    …among others. It was not meant to be insulting: some people, because of culture or upbringing, are not instilled with these skills. The program sought to train them to the level where they could hold a minimum wage job. From there, maybe they could hold a better paying job…

    How is this relevant? I can’t deny that there are welfare recipients who cynically exploit the system (I have first-hand experience with people who pretend to be several individuals living at different addresses in order to receive multiple welfare cheques). But most of them need it.

    And forcing welfare recipients to take a drug test? So many of these people would fail because they don’t know any other lifestyle than TV, booze and drugs. And then they’re really screwed. People like that don’t smarten-up, pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get a job. They can’t. They either take to the streets (where they annoy conservatives with their panhandling) or they die of exposure. And then whiny conservatives end up paying anyway: this time for publicly-funded hospital bills, autopsies and burials.

    Great fucking plan, morons. And I mean that in the nicest way.

  9. Wade L
    28 August 2010 at 1:21 am

    I guess the thing is, it is a stupid idea even if you are a heartless conservative(not that all conservatives are heartless). I mean, I am a member of the Church of Socialism and pray at the altar of St Douglas, but even if I wasn’t… Some folks might wish social undesirables like addicts would just lay down and die. But that won’t happen nearly as often as some people would like. People fight to survive. You cut them off of welfare…well, some will lay down and die. But others are going to do whatever it takes to feed themselves and their families. Even if I didn’t believe on helping people not because they’ve earned it but because they are worth it as human beings, I’d still rather have the government being on their side and helping them instead of making them into people whose sole relationship with larger society is antagonistic.

  10. 29 August 2010 at 7:32 am

    Bad news: The Australian Influence is probably a ways off yet. I’m totally willing to bend over backwards to get your migration papers processed to move over here in the meantime, though…

    Oh, also, those word-things you made into talk-phrases were right effing on. +1 to what you said.

    You shouldn’t have to take drug tests on Welfare because even if it is a job, it’s not a job where your being high is a health risk or necessarily even a detriment, just like they don’t make anyone take drug tests to work at Blockbuster Video. Seriously, you want to compare welfare to a job? Go ahead, but compare it to cooking pies at Pizza Hut, not monitoring the core temperature of a fusion reactor.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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