I'd like to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to appear at this hearing to testify on the implications of poverty on individuals with mental illnesses.
Social assistance plays a crucial role in determining the extent of poverty in this province. The agency's vision includes this statement: We strive to ensure that diversity is respected, that people feel accepted and valued, and live with dignity and security. We work with the community to support Manitoba children, families, and individuals to achieve their fullest potential.
That statement is at odds with the fact that individuals with disabilities receive income benefits that are roughly 50% of the poverty line, according to low-income cutoffs.
I realize that social assistance is beyond the purview of this hearing; however, this provincial program is partially funded through the Canada social transfer.
Living in poverty has several implications for individuals with mental illnesses, starting with a lack of access to safe, affordable housing. We were involved in a research project sanctioned by the University of Manitoba, and one of the individuals we interviewed on a participatory action research project on perceptions of recovery stated:
How do you expect people to take care of their physical self, take care of their mental self, and actually move forward in the recovery process, when...there's no money to do that? Because your physical wellbeing has a lot to do with your mental wellbeing. That $271 really
--excuse my language, but this is what she said--
pisses me off. That's all you get for rent. You know the areas you end up living at on $271 aren't exactly conducive to, you know, a good recovery or even a recovery process.
That basic amount for housing has been moved up. I think it's $285 a month, plus there's a Manitoba housing allowance of $50. That's still only $335. You're not going to find much in housing for $335 a month.
A female consumer, regarding the lack of personal safety as a result of inadequate housing, stated:
Can you just imagine getting up every morning...being afraid...going to bed every night being afraid ...just being afraid constantly.
Our key informant psychiatrist, regarding what would better assist mental health service recipients in their recovery, stated:
Let's start...with homelessness or housing...you know poverty...those issues that you recognize particularly during PACT, because if you can move people into decent living arrangements...if you can provide for them some meaningful work opportunity, even if it's still recovery from some disability. Many of these people are penalized because they want to work, but they can't work a certain amount because they're going to get their hands slapped. So you can't...you know, there's always another barrier. You have to ask why can't we start somewhere and do a transition into something meaningful work-wise without getting people feeling like they can't get off welfare? I can't get off this because I'll be high and dry. How will I get my medications paid for? Well it's ludicrous, right? Let's look at how people are remarkably moved forward by simple little things that would build self-esteem and would give them a sense of self.
That would include housing, employment, and education.
Regarding other barriers to recovery from a mental illness, a consumer stated, “...a barrier for me mainly was lack of achieving an education and employment”.
My personal experience regarding education and employment has been that success breeds more success. Having come to education and real employment later in life, I can attest to the importance of a decent education and working in a meaningful occupation. Achieving an education and having what I consider to be real employment, because it's something I want to do, has worked wonders in my recovery. Actually achieving an education--and I worked for it--and then getting a meaningful job has worked miracles. I can't stress enough the importance of that aspect in recovery from a mental illness.
I had to rely on social assistance for my income for a few years, and I know what it's like to live in poverty. It was one of the most degrading experiences of my life. The income amount was insufficient to meet my needs, and the lack of income, contrary to encouraging me to get a job, only succeeded in doing the opposite. A person doesn't dream or plan for the future on the amount of money social assistance provides; a person survives day to day.
I have some suggestions.
First, initiate and operate a basic income program for persons with disabilities, specifically including persons diagnosed with mental illnesses.
Increase the Canada social transfer to the provinces and ensure that the money goes to the social programs it was intended for, through collaboration with the provinces. Make housing a primary federal concern for individuals with disabilities.
Support individuals with mental illnesses who want and need education by developing more supported education and training programs.
Support individuals with mental illnesses who are able to work through supported employment programs and training. Encourage employers to hire individuals with mental illnesses by providing resources for employers to implement workplace accommodations. Increase the success rate of programs by consulting with individuals with mental illnesses on what works for them.
Individuals with mental illnesses should be consulted in the development and implementation of any programs or services that are designed for them, instead of finding out after you've spent a billion dollars that the program just doesn't work. That would be a cost-saving measure. It kind of makes sense to find out first if people are really interested in a certain kind of program.