On January 1, the Quebec government increased social assistance payments by $6 per month, which corresponds to an indexation rate of 1.06 per cent.
In a press release sent to The Daily on January 1, the Front commun des personnes assistées sociales du Québec (FCPASQ) – an organization representing people who receive social assistance – denounced the low indexation rate as insufficient in comparison to increases in prices of consumer goods, which averaged 3.1 per cent for food and 1.6 per cent across all sectors over the past year. Hydro-Québec electricity prices, meanwhile, increased by 4.3 per cent last April.
“People on welfare are finding themselves in a more and more precarious situation, they are going deeper and deeper into poverty,” Cathy Inouye, community organizer at Project Genesis and FCPASQ spokesperson on the issue, told The Daily.
Intended as a form of “last-resort financial assistance,” the social assistance program dispenses $1.4 billion yearly to over 319,000 households, the basic monthly rate being $616 for an individual. When the program was first established in 1969, the monthly payment was $217, which would correspond to over $1,300 today when accounting for inflation, according to a document published by the FCPASQ.
Jean Lalande, coordinator at the Welfare Rights Committee of South-West Montreal, spoke to the insufficient amount of payment in an interview with The Daily.
“It would be very important to have a social program that ensures that those basic needs [such as food and housing] are covered, that the benefits are calculated to cover the basic cost of living,” said Lalande. “We thought it would become a priority [over the years] but it has not happened.”
Although beneficiaries with “severely limited capacity for employment” qualify for “social solidarity” payments, which amount to $937 monthly for a single individual, Inouye noted that about 60 per cent of people who receive the base rate of $616 are also unable to work.
“Welfare has a long history of punishing those who [the government feels] should be working, even though they know that there is a high unemployment rate, so a lot of people can’t find work,” said Inouye. “Poverty and health go hand in hand, so a lot of people – they might have depression, or anxiety, or even people who have major illnesses like cancer – these people might also be on the base rate even though their sickness is such that they are not able to work.”
Lalande echoed Inouye’s concerns, asserting that the welfare program has become “merit-based” over the years, since it takes into account the beneficiary’s ‘employability.’
“It makes [people on welfare] even less and less employable [when their needs are not being met],” said Lalande. “It becomes even harder to look for work.”
In its press release in French, the FCPASQ recommended that the government restore previously repealed fiscal measures to increase revenue and be able to “support the development of a more egalitarian society in which everyone can live in dignity.”
Inouye also suggested that the government lift undue restrictions on access to welfare, and allow beneficiaries to supplement their income without fear of having a potion of it deduced from their welfare cheque, as is current practice.
“It’s also about people’s inherent dignity, and their ability to make it to the end of the month and still have food in the fridge,” she said.