Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fixed Income Poverty

Fixed income refers to those whose income is fixed and limited.  Most people faced with increased cost can 'cut back' expenses or take an extra job.  Those on fixed income are often severely disabled or elderly. Their income is contained mostly to their 'needs' and far less than their 'wants.'  The amounts of their income have often been decided by court or government.  The decisions as to how much the 'needed' were 'fixed' at an earlier time. Society agreed on a pension or a 'disability' or "insurance" payment at some time when the 'amount' arrived at seemed 'reasonable'.
The problem of poverty is that all these individuals had incomes 'defined' before major changes in circumstances that were not envisioned at the time of the 'settlement' or 'act' that decided the actual amount of money these people needed to manage.  There is not talk of luxury in these cases.  Often the decisions were ironed out conflict situations with lawyers or special interest groups fighting over the pennies.
These people are highly vulnerable to relatively minor changes in the basics of survival, especially urban survival.  Any 'rent increase' severely impacts their fixed income.  Any change in food prices, electricity, heating or gas prices can severely hurt them.
Recently I saw a brain damaged man whose only 'entertainment' in his limitted world was to go for coffee at the local coffeeshop.  Because of the rise in his basic living costs the cost of $2 a day for his coffee 'allowance' had to be 'cut'.  His 'budget' could not handle this one 'pleasure' any longer.  He has no 'disposable income'.   He was wholly disabled by a motor vehicle accident some 20 years ago.  At the time the 'settlement' did not assume the inflation that we have seen or the soaring costs of living.  He is just one of so many I know who are increasingly 'warehoused' in the lowest quality of housing that collectively as Canadians we should be ashamed.
Canadians collectively don't appreciate the poverty of all these who are isolated and marginalized by their disability.  The elderly can't pick up bottles even for extra cash because the thugs in the neighbourhood would steal from them or push them down.  Recently a man in his late 70's was pushed over a cliff but the message of the courts was that this 'assault' was not the potential 'manslaughter' that such differential between a 25 year and a 75 year combat is.  Locally the elderly simply don't go out in the city after night literally accepting 'curfew' because the streets are 'unsafe'.  A 'broken hip' can be a death sentence for an older person. At very least it can cause them to lose their independence.  Yet their neighbourhood changes and they can't afford the high priced security systems the insurance company and declining neighbourhood police services expect.  On fixed pensions they can't even afford a new lock.
It would really be worth consideration is society required a review of all disability and insurance and pension payments that placed people at the marginal end of society.  What was adequate 5 years ago, is it appropriate today?  Government decisions that pass costs on to the individual while keeping the money that once paid for these services should be reviewed in light of cost of restorative justice which would then right the inequity of a pension, disability payment or insurance solution that simply did not keep up with the cost of living.
There is extensive fixed income poverty in Canada. The people who I know who bear this burden are proud and have worked hard until they were unable. They're not the shirkers who because they lose a leg refuse to get a desk job and demand to live on the dole because life has thrown them a sad ringer. These people would work if they could.  Too often the insurance and pension situations they are in actually penalize them if they do work to redress the decline in their buying power.  That man with the brain injury, if he sold pencils, would find that his disability might be docked the amount of money he made. He wouldn't get to have his daily coffee at his local coffeeshop despite the fact that that was the orginal 'agreement' and 'understanding'.
Fixed income poverty is something that is real and serious and frightening.  When the buying power goes down or cost of living goes up or government bond prices drop these are the people who are getting it in the chin.  What frightens me is any day I could be one of them.  An accident, an illness, or just increased aging will suddenly place me in a position of vulnerability.  Right now I don't think Canada is doing enough for these people who through no fault of their own are not able to work in any capacity but must depend on a fixed income.
I would just ask that everyone consider these people. You don't see them.  They're usually hidden in rooms.  They're not crying out about poverty.  They have no voice.

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