The Minister of Employment and Social Development in the Canadian federal government, Ahmed Hussen, recently tabled an annual report taking stock of the country’s poverty reduction strategy.
The advisory council responsible for the reported dedicated it “to all those courageous people who shared their stories, successes and struggles with the Council in the hope that we would in turn share them across Canada. You are at the heart of this report.”
People with “Lived experience” is how policy wonks and political staffers refer to them, stressing the importance of consulting citizens who are struggling with the challenges of living in poverty and facing the barriers of moving toward a better life.
My three-year old post explaining Canada’s official poverty line continually garners views because it ranks high on a Google search for “Canada poverty line.”
This means it gets read by a whole group of people who are not policy wonks, and often by people with “lived experience,” who often cry out and share their stories by proposing a comment for my web page, which if it has done any good helped them to realize how far below the poverty line they may well be.
I hesitate approving their comments for public viewing because of their revealing and personal nature.
But maybe I shouldn’t. They have voice, but they need to be listened to. So here is one more voice that encapsulates so much, and in many different ways, of what makes policy to the poor so important, but also reveals the limits of current actions.
I am well below the poverty line. I am a landed immigrant that married a Canadian years ago. My background working-wise has always been shipping, manufacturing, my whole life….until I came here in 2003, it took me 5 YEARS AND 10’s of thousands of dollars to be able to become a part of Canadian society, thanks to my father in law (I will never be able to pay him back).
I was not allowed to work or use any services while I was waiting for them to decide if I was good enough to be here. I didn’t mind, I always believed people should be vetted, still do.
My husband was a single father raising 2 kids. So after all of that and I was “allowed to be a Canadian immigrant”, I have found nothing but part time (even less part time now) in the food realm, including dishwasher. My husband got laid off in November, and my hours got cut again and I do not think that restaurant will last into next year (2020).
I have never asked for a hand out. Now when I see new immigrants coming, they get housing (while I am living in black mold), they get all kinds of health stuff (I lost my glasses 2 years ago and haven’t been able to afford new ones…I have all the signs of glaucoma), they get schooling (at one of my job interviews, I was told “technology passed me by”, mind you, I worked years building computers before that girl was born, I call that age biased), they get welfare (I was always told, if you can work, work. NO ONE WILL HIRE ME, and they tell me I live in a house and I make too much money so I can’t get any relief, not even with food).
My house is filled with black mold, rotting floors, cracked windows, bad insulation, I have no cell phone, no home phone, no cable tv, barely any food in my cupboards, I eat one meal at work and save what food we do have at home for my husband, I have at least 40 job applications out there, I do not have a car.
Yet, all the newcomers now….well, look around…I see nice new cars, cell phones, nice clothes. I see “success” stories at the immigrant services website……must be nice.
By the way, I left out where I immigrated from, my skin color, or my religion…. I’m pretty sure you can guess, and perhaps that is why I never got a chance to take care of my little family here. There is no hope for me. Why? Where I am from, and my age…my hubby and I are both in our 50’s. We don’t have a chance in hell….
Minister Hussen’s report landed with the loudest thud of silence I’ve ever heard. Maybe because the voice of poor has not been trumpeted loud enough in spite of the fact that it claims to have listened to 200 people with “lived experience.”
Indeed, lived experience is top of mind of policy wonks right now as a terrible pandemic continues to threaten the health and livelihood of many, while at the same time augmenting the savings and wealth of the already wealthy. But rest assured it is very much on the top of mind of many Canadians in a way that many others have yet to fully appreciate.