At twenty, I was diagnosed with four mental illnesses. It took most of 10 years to correctly diagnose my problems and figure out how to treat them; then, eight years ago, I lost all of the vision in my left eye and 90% in my right. During those ten years, in spite of my struggles, I managed to earn a degree from McMaster University, but by then I had fallen behind my peers, who had been developing the experience, skills, and connections needed to succeed in life; I’ve been trying to catch up ever since.
The Basic Income Pilot afforded me the possibility of doing just that. Simply put, I signed up for the Basic Income Pilot because I was on the verge of losing everything I have. My expectation going in was that I would be able to work, to contribute to society, without having to worry about losing everything; that expectation was being met. Before the pilot, I spent my time endlessly looking for a job, using every tool at my disposal –including governmental employment programs– without any success.
Unfortunately, I have the added disadvantage of only being able to look for part-time due to my mental illnesses and further, only those positions that suit my limited vision. With so many people competing for work, employers have the luxury of asking for very specific qualifications, with little incentive to hire the disabled, so I had been intending to further my education, considering such possibilities as a degree in administration or a certification to teach English as a second language. These avenues –and many others– have now been effectively closed off to me.
Having risen only $150/200or so in twenty years, the amount given by ODSP is simply insufficient to accomplish these goals. The mass of paperwork required by ODSP leaves me extremely vulnerable to disruptions because it necessitates timely, efficient cooperation from numerous parties. It did not support the ability to recover my footing in life, or to make any substantial gains or improvements. By providing consistent, reliable financial support, the program significantly reduced the anxiety that goes with not knowing if I will be able to successfully afford the month ahead. I was able to consider the future with hope. Feeling less stress about the present meant that I was able to start thinking about how I could make changes to better my life.
Ending up on the streets is a concern of mine. I’ve volunteered with people living in these and similar conditions and I know that what distinguishes me from them is not my intelligence, it is not my education, and it is not my health. Having a job is vital to being able to live with dignity and to find my place. It gives me a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment to be a contributing member of the work force. And work provides stability and a sense of purpose to my life. When I have had the good luck to find work in the past, I have been a loyal and dedicated employee.
At perhaps the most desperate time in my life the Basic Income Pilot not only saved me, it also improved my life. The legally blind are prone to social isolation and reduced community involvement. While on the program I have been able to find some seasonal work – and I’ve begun volunteering in social services and the arts, to acquire new skills and experience, without worrying about food, clothing, and shelter.
The Provincial Government has announced that the Basic Income Pilot is being cancelled because it is a disincentive to work. I am not lazy, I am not entitled, I am just disabled. I find the belief that people like me do not want to work or contribute to society offensive.
What we need –what I think we need– are paths to employment, including the means to sustain ourselves adequately and with dignity, while we work to upgrade skills, and while we find ways to grow and build links to the community through volunteering. I just want to contribute without the fear of losing everything. The Basic Income pilot did that.