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Leech On Society

Hi there, I'd like to take a moment to introduce my wife and myself to you, Mr. and Mrs. Leech. Well to be perfectly formal and accurate that should be Mr. and Mrs. Leech Upon Society. Not quite as distinguished as other titles perhaps, but it still has a certain cachet, wouldn't you say?

Yep the wife and I happily suckle at the teat of society's benevolent tit, living the live of the idle rich. All you poor slobs are out there breaking your backs so your hard earned money can be taken away from you in the form of taxes to pay for our outrageously extravagant lifestyle.

Just like connoisseurs everywhere we have to choose between a selection of delectable options: do we pay our utility bill this month, or not buy groceries for a week. Hmmm, tricky, but heck the days are longer, winter is pretty much over, who needs electricity. That's the good thing about the warmer weather, you're options are ever so much better then they were in the winter.

Those of you who are Canadian will say, but didn't the government give you a rebate check for heating costs? No, they seem to have forgotten that people with zero income should be considered low income Canadians. Only those in receipt of the Child Tax Credit, and the Guaranteed Annual Income Supplement (GAINS) for seniors received that. They wanted to make sure that only those most deserving received it.

Well I can understand how you wouldn't want a disabled married couple to receive any extras to make their life any easier. You wouldn't want them forgetting that they're supposed to be suffering. I mean we're not well so we be used to it right?

It's not like we're a married couple with a single income of over $170,000 a year, and would really suffer if we didn't get that extra money to help with day care costs to allow who ever the stay at home parent is to attend to their social obligations. They're not used to any deprivations or feelings of low self-esteem, so they wouldn't be able to take any reduction of their income.

Now we disabled people, we're already used to suffering, so what's a little additional economic hardship? Heck if you're going to be disabled you have to expect pain. Isn't it better that those who are already experiencing troubles should have them compounded instead of loading any on to people who live a care free existence? Besides we shouldn't worry those who are actually making a contribution to society, now should we?

It's a funny thing though you know; Mrs. Leech and myself didn't plan this out when we got married. She's been a good little contributor to society, holding down jobs since she was in her teens and paying her taxes every year. I may not have been as good as contributor, being the lay about artistic type who never made all that much money in the first place, but I've had a few high paying jobs that resulted in paying some high tax bills.

In fact in the last two years before we got sick we were an ideal couple. We didn't have children as deductions, made a taxable income, and had built up a good debt load through our purchase of consumer goods. (Which also meant we had contributed 15 cents on quite a few dollars to the treasuries of both the provincial and federal governments)

When I had to leave work, and wait and see if I was deemed crippled enough to receive disability support from the government, not having any coverage through my job, our income was reduced so much that I was even able to increase my debt load substantially just so we could eat and pay rent.

Of course in the year prior to me stopping work I had only limited coverage to help pay for my medications which were costing around $3-$400 a month. The low-income drug program's deductible was still a sufficient chunk of change that I would have to pay for one full months medication each quarter before I received any help. So the debt kept pilling up.

Even after I was accepted onto the roles of those considered significantly disabled it took over three months for someone from the local office to phone me to ask if I still wanted to receive the money. Now it's true they paid me retroactively back to the date my application was received in their office in Toronto, and while it may have covered some of the principle of my debt, it did nothing to offset the interest that had accumulated.

Of course it did nothing to help offset the debt my illness had forced us to accumulate before it became obvious I wasn't going to be able to work again. There was also the matter that in the seven months it took them to process my application we hadn't been able to replace anything that might have worn out, like shoes and other luxury items of that ilk.

Now Mrs. Leech was trying to do her part. In spite of the fact that it was becoming increasingly obvious that she shouldn't be working, the government had turned down her initial application, she worked a part time job. You would think that would have been of some benefit for us, a little extra money coming in and so on, right.

But because of the arcane rules about how much a family member is allowed to earn while one person is receiving a disability pension, and the fact that she had to take a cab to and from work each day due to her inability to walk or cope with public transit, we were lucky to not lose money each month with her working. (They have since changed the system to make it much conducive for people to work while receiving either disability or Welfare in Ontario, which is a very positive step forward.)

Well finally it was recognised that Mrs. Leech wasn't able to work any more than I was, and so they changed the status of my disability check to being double disabled. What that meant was we got another $175.00 a month to live on. Yep Mrs. Leech is worth $175.00 a month to me now, which is actually better then most life insurance policies are offering, so I'll be keeping her around for a while longer I guess. (It works both ways; I'm worth that much to her as well-it's like those mutual non-aggression pacts of the past between nuclear powers where we will inflict too much damage on ourselves to make getting rid of the other worthwhile. That's a joke by the way.)

Anyway so here we sit with a debt load that we accumulated through no fault of our own, (oh all right we could have gone without eating, or been evicted, or froze to death but we didn't consider those viable options) dealing with illnesses that make getting through a day without stress a struggle, and faced with having to move because we can no longer afford to live in the slum we live in now.

We were able to buy some time by utilizing Mrs Leech's balance protection on her credit cards, but all that did was pay the minimum payments for a short while, still leaving us with the principle to contend with at the end of the day. We're so desperate that we've been taking new cards that offer lower interest rates on transfers, just so that we can a) reduce the principle on one card, and b) end up with a slightly smaller debt load by paying a larger proportion of money towards principle instead of interest.

We’ve cut so close to the bone as it is that we've started to whittle off some of the cartridge. Probably the only luxury we're not prepared to give up is the $20.00 a month we pay for dial up Internet service. Without that both my wife and I would go insane. Anyway it's one of the few things that haven't gone up in price.

It's stayed the same price for the last five years, $19.95 a month plus tax for unlimited Internet. It's too bad the same can't be said about the rest of the world. In the last year I've watch the price of a brick of cheese go from $4.99 to $6.70. Those of you who are mathematically inclined can figure that out as a percentage if you want, but I already know it's higher than any increase there's been in the disability pensions.

Back in the early nineties, (1990's not the 1890's), disability support payments had an annual cost of living increase of around 1%. It doesn't sound like much, but every little bit adds up. But from 1993 until 2005 disability and welfare payments were either frozen or cut by up to 20%. Even those programs whose payments weren't cut were seeing their purchasing power reduced at rate of around 2% per annum. (On average the annual cost of living increase)

That works out to be almost a 25% reduction in those twelve years. If you were to factor in the loss of the annual increase of 1% as well, the reduction increases to 36%, or more then a third of its value lost to cost of living increases. Now that's pretty bad in of itself, but there are other factors to consider as well.

In the mid to late 1990's the Ontario government revamped its rent control legislation giving landlords incredible freedom to charge whatever they liked for rental units. While it's true they couldn't increase the rent of an existing tenant by more then a certain amount, any time an apartment came available they could raise the rent on that unit by whatever amount they wanted.

The theory was that market forces would control the rents, preventing landlords from charging too much. But the reality is that people have to have a place to live, and you will pay what's necessary to keep you and your family off the street. When the vacancy rate is less then 1% a landlord is able to ask $800.00 per month for a one-room apartment, with a separate bathroom and kitchen if you are lucky, and find someone desperate enough to rent it.

Now Mrs. Leech and myself receive the maximum you can get for shelter as a couple because we are both disabled. To pay for our rent and utilities we receive $654.00 a month. Now that's going to leave us with a sizable shortfall when it comes to renting out somewhere to live don't you think?

What about geared to income housing? What about it; the waiting list is a minimum of five years, most of the units are built in isolated parts of town and have turned into havens for drug dealers or welfare ghettos. They are places filled with hopelessness and despair, perpetuating cycles of endless poverty.

They seem built for only one reason, to provide a place to hide the poor and disabled away from the rest of society's sight. There a sop to liberal consciences and it lets governments say they're doing something, but all they is deepen the divisions in society and provide people with excuses for failure.

Like I said earlier Mrs. Leech and myself didn't plan on getting sick and becoming incapacitated, it just happened. I'm incredibly grateful that there is some sort of system in place at all for assisting people like us who are in dire straits. The people who work in the offices do the best they can for us, in spite of having their hands tied by regulations that seem intent on making life difficult for their clients.

But being grateful does not prevent me from seeing how bad our situation is, and how the needs of disabled people in Ontario, and I assume elsewhere, are being neglected. Of course there are people who take advantage of the system, just as there are wealthy people who take advantage of te tax system so they can make millions of dollars a year and not pay a cent in income tax.

How often to you hear the government or the pundits talking about all the income they lose from those people? Why is it only the poor and sick that are blamed and made to pay for the economic woes of society? If we are Mr. and Mrs. Leech because we receive a monthly stipend that barely lets us make ends meet, why are they referred to as Captains of Industry for avoiding their responsibilities as citizens?

The next time a politician or pundit starts going on about welfare cheats spending your tax money on beer; ask him or her about tax evaders spending our tax money on champagne and caviar. I'd be interested in hearing their response.

Leap In The Dark

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There is some interesting commentary about rent controls on the Ontario Tenants Rights website.