How poverty and precarious work killed a healthy Toronto man

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Sept. 27, 2018.   By KATE FANE

Not for the first time, we are faced with the heartbreaking news that another of our community members here at the Stop Community Food Centre has died due to entirely preventable circumstances.

There are so many stories we could tell to illustrate what this man meant to our community. Most mornings, he’d pack one of our breakfasts in Tupperware to deliver to a neighbour with mobility issues. At lunch, he’d sit at the “Mammas” table with a group of older women, and he became part of their tight-knit circle. And despite his small stature, he took pride in acting as a self-proclaimed “bodyguard” for one of our staff members.

The last time we saw him was in our drop-in program. He told staff he didn’t feel well after falling off a ladder and hitting his head at his under-the-table construction job a few days earlier. Alarmed, we encouraged him to go see a doctor. He died in the hospital later that day.

Why hadn’t he sought help earlier? This decision may seem strange to you, but for millions of low-income Canadians, it’s entirely logical. This man had been depending on odd jobs to meet his basic needs. His casual employers certainly didn’t offer sick days, and he simply couldn’t spare the money he’d lose by missing work to see a doctor.

This man died from poverty. He died from precarious, unsafe work. He died from making just one of the many impossible choices that we saddle on people living in poverty: getting the health care that could have saved his life conflicted with a job that had so far allowed him to survive.

When MPP Lisa MacLeod scrapped the Basic Income Pilot halfway through its duration, her excuse was that the program didn’t help people become “independent contributors to the economy,” and that it was “a disincentive to get people back on track.”

We vehemently disagree. When we abruptly cut poor people off from their meagre financial supports, when we prevent them from receiving cash gifts from friends and family in times of crisis, and when we demand that they completely drain their savings before seeking help, all that we’re disincentivizing is their health and well-being.

Putting people in desperate situations forces them to make desperate choices — especially when it comes to the kinds of work they’ll accept. Now that over one in five of all Torontonians live in poverty, these desperate choices will become far more common.

Even for those who are able to find regular employment, the statistics show that a job doesn’t guarantee a path out of poverty. Barely half of Toronto’s workers are lucky enough to have permanent, full-time positions that provide benefits and a degree of employment security.

Our city also has the fastest growing percentage of working poor in the nation. Yet our provincial government has given every indication that it intends to roll back the protections that were provided to precarious, low-waged workers in Bill 148.

There should be no confusion, despite our chaotic political era, how much our workplaces have benefited from labour protections. We need to remember how necessities, such as sick days, improve the health of our communities — to say nothing of their positive impact on the economy. People have fought hard for labour standards that keep us safe and keep us working. We can’t let that progress, and those protections be diminished.

We need to hold our governments to account on issues of social assistance and precarious work, and demand that they make data-driven decisions that can alleviate poverty for the 20 per cent of Torontonians struggling to survive in an increasingly unaffordable city.

We need to challenge them when they threaten labour standards, which for many vulnerable workers, can be the difference between surviving and thriving.

As a city, and a province, we should insist — loudly — that families have food on the table, and that people come home from work at the end of the day.

Rachel Gray is the executive director and Kate Fane is the communications officer of The Stop Community Food Centre, a nationally respected non-profit organization that’s been on the front lines of alleviating poverty and food insecurity in Toronto for over 35 years.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/09/27/how-poverty-precarious-work-killed-a-healthy-toronto-man.html

2 Comments

  1. “This man died from poverty. He died from precarious, unsafe work. He died from making just one of the many impossible choices that we saddle on people living in poverty”

    Rachel Gray, the executive director and Kate Fane, the communications officer of The Stop Community Food Centre highlight the desperate situations that many low-income and homeless people encounter everyday.They highlight that MPP Lisa MacLeod scrapped the Basic Income Pilot halfway through its duration, her excuse was that the program didn’t help people become “independent contributors to the economy,” and that it was “a disincentive to get people back on track.”
    However, while working in the front line one can see that this is very untrue.
    By abruptly cutting people off from financial supports, we’re increasing the hardship on their health and well-being, which as we have learned from the social determinate of health – also costs money. The government is giving the indication that it is saving money by rolling back social assistance for low-waged workers however, they neglect to consider how this could improve the health of our communities and positively impact the economy. We need to stand to and make our government accountable to the issues of social assistance and precarious work by making data-driven decisions that will alleviate poverty. We need to work smarter instead of harder and work together to thrive instead of just survive as Gray and Fane are highlighting.

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