I’m on welfare at this very moment while waiting for other sources of living income to come through.
Even if it’s for only a temporary time, or if the reason you are on welfare is completely outside of your control, there is a feeling of guilt and internalized shame (common in our society of poor bashing). There are so many myths about the welfare system (the ‘make taxpayers feel that everyone on welfare are committing fraud’ scare campaign worked rather effectively), and many people don’t know that often whatever money is received is often immediately paid back / taken back by the government as soon as employment / insurance / or whatever other monies are received, even if that means the person goes without money for a further amount of time so that the debt is repaid. It’s not a free ride nor an enjoyable one. I remember when 30 bucks or so was cut from mother’s who were receiving welfare because it was said they were using it to buy beer. Incredulous to punish everyone, insulting and it only made things worse.
Where I live, I have seen the other consequences of the system, where people who have to decide between food or rent and can’t run the chance of being evicted, decide to turn to selling drugs (or themselves) to make ends meet. Or, through so many different factors and from being pushed further down into the ground, they give up. Sometimes, there just aren’t any legitimate jobs available in an area and without the funding to relocate or the ability to do so, people get trapped in a cycle of poverty. Without access to funding for education or effective government programs (totally gutted in the past few decades), it can be a very demoralizing experience.
People often don’t realize just how close they can be to being the person on the street, or alone having to submit all of their personal details to receive next to nothing to scrape by. With the manufacturing industry and other sectors of the economy going through some difficult changes, people who once felt secure about their income and would never have thought of themselves as being ‘one of those people’ are soon finding themselves in line at the welfare office. Employment (Unemployment Insurance) qualifying factors have been tightened so much that many are surprised when they find themselves even more worse off. Suddenly, they’re on the inside of the outside and things look much different.
The percentage of people who “abuse the system on a regular basis” are so minimal, so very very small, that the amount spent on investigating possible fraud cases is tremendous in comparison to the actual few cases where welfare fraud has occurred. Again, that assumption of people and stigmatization is just one of the many things that is preventing real change.
I think dialogue between those who have been there and those who haven’t is extremely important in making change that isn’t just all talk.
A thank you from someone below the waterline.
Related: Larry's Flickr set, "Homeless in America" in which he spoke to most of the people for whom he photographed.