My story of living in poverty is a long one. The factors that I would say contributed to our poverty are: Poor health.
Using the lens of family rather than income in determining supports. Poor transition between sources of support.
As a child, I was the oldest of 5 and our family was fairly traditional for that time. My mother was a stay at home mom and my dad worked two jobs to keep us going. We did without a lot of things, but we did not think of ourselves as poor as there were lots of other families around who also struggled. On paper, we were probably considered low middle class.
At a young age, my husband and I decided to get married. He left university and I left grade 13 with an expectation that we would be able to go to school as married students. Unfortunately, there was not enough funding available for that to happen, so we started our marriage with my husband’s student loan hanging over our heads. We lived in northern Ontario and this was during a recession and jobs were hard to find. At one point my husband was turned down for a job as a restaurant dishwasher because he did not have a university degree. He was one of about 230 people who lined up to apply for the job.
We moved to southern Ontario and, after a few stumbles, my husband found a long term job. We eventually paid off the student loan, started a family and bought a house with a minimum down payment. The kids started school and I went back to work. We were well set as a middle class family. Not as well off as many but far ahead of others.
Then I got sick. First I reduced my working hours, and then finally, on doctor’s orders, I had to quit working. Getting by on my husband’s salary was difficult, but we managed. We were now bordering between the class of working poor and low middle class. The cost of my drugs was very high, but we had benefits through his work and could cope fairly well as long as we did not send the kids on expensive field trips or sign them up for sports and/or other extracurricular activities. We had no savings, but his income was enough to get us through.
At the suggestion of someone running for office, I applied for ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) benefits but was turned down because of our other income and because my leaving work was too long before my medical condition was recognized as a disability.
Fast forward a few years and my husband had started his own business, not a lot, but a bit extra income. Then, crash! He was downsized after 27 years with the same company. No more benefits, great loss of income and stability.
The income from his business built up for a while and we managed, but then his health got much worse. We came close to losing our house and that is when we applied again for ODSP, this time in my husband’s name and were approved.
What followed were a few years of stability until he turned 65. Now we are struggling to find out what happens to my drug and dental benefits as I am not yet old enough for the seniors’ benefits and we are not yet receiving the CPP portion of pension. So, here we are entering yet another stage of instability!
by Cathie Stewart Savage