On the wrong side of the social safety net

She did the right thing but got caught in the net.

She did the right thing but got caught in the net.

Last Christmas, Laverne Wilson won the Prince Rupert Northern View’s $1,000 Shop Prince Rupert prize give-away.

“I was ecstatic about winning,” Wilson told Quinn Bender of The Northern View. “I couldn’t believe I won it. I have five grandchildren so I decided I was going shopping for them. What’s happening now is just really crazy.”

Wilson said she spent the money on some clothes and Christmas gifts for her five grandchildren.

A heart-warming Christmas stroke of luck. But here comes Scrooge.

Wilson is on social assistance. And when she did the right thing and reported the money — unfortunately after spending all of it on gifts and clothes — her regular cheque from the Ministry of Social Development, a.k.a. welfare, came up missing.

According to the bureaucrats, she exceeded her  $500 allowable earnings. That turned her $612 assistance cheque to dust and made here unable to pay her rent.

Ten days after not paying her rent, the landlord came knocking with an eviction order.

“This is crazy,” Wilson said. “I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I’m being punished for winning something, for wanting to give my [grand] kids a beautiful Christmas. I just don’t understand it. They just keep telling me ‘you’re in excess, you’re in excess.’”

Simply put, everybody is doing the right thing according to the system.

The Ministry is right that she has exceeded, Wilson is right to think that it’s unfair and the landlord is right to want the money on time.

Unfortunately, this is again another example of a social safety net that doesn’t hold people up, it holds them down.

Earlier this month, a Prince Rupert business manager complained loudly about how, when he tried to offer a full-time job to a welfare recipient, he was told to go pound sand when the recipient made more money to stay home than to take the unskilled labour job at $12/hour.

It seems that able-bodied worker would receive nearly the same amount by just working two days a week to supplement his assistance rather than taking the full-time job.

One could easily blame the worker and say, he’s just lazy.

But from a strict financial perspective, the lazy worker made the right decision. Why work five days, when you can get the same amount in two.

He’s just playing the rules the system has set up.

For those with little to no upward mobility, this safety net is over their head holding them down, not the net below their feet to spring them back up.

Wilson knows the system and should have taken care of necessities before buying gifts, but its understandable she just wanted to share her winnings.

Unfortunately, the net result is she lost.