Iqaluit council wants vouchers for welfare recipients
Iqaluit Town Council believes two many income support recipients are spending their money on booze, drugs and gambling.
IQALUIT — Iqaluit’s income support recipients should spend their money on groceries, not booze and gambling, Iqaluit Town Council says.
Council wants some income support recipients to receive food vouchers instead of cash. It has sent a letter to Nunavut’s Departments of Education and Sustainable Development asking for the change.
The vouchers could be redeemed for food and clothing, and perhaps small amounts of cash at stores around town, said Paul Fraser, Iqaluit’s director of social services. The system is expected to prevent recipients from misusing money.
Council’s request would only apply to people who are not looking for work or attending school, and those who have a history of abusing the system.
Right now, residents on income support receive monthly cheques they can spend as they choose. But some recipients use their money for alcohol, drugs and gambling, Fraser said.
“Try to get into the local bars the day SAs [social assistance cheques] are issued,” Fraser said.
When Iqaluit administered income support cheques, it received about 350 applications a month. Fraser estimates 10 to 15 per cent of those recipients abuse the system.
“For those people who continue to abuse the system, is it responsible for any government to continue issuing funds?” Fraser said, adding that in the Baffin region, only Iqaluit and Clyde River still issue cheques.
Coun. Doug Lem, who presented the motion, said the Sailivik Centre’s breakfast program for school children proves that some people abuse the system. He said the voucher system is needed to protect those children.
“There’s another group we have to think about here and that’s the children who don’t have a voice,” Lem said.
Social welfare officers already have the authority to issue vouchers instead of cash, if they feel the money is being misused, Fraser said.
But Deputy Mayor Ben Ell questioned whether its right to specify how recipients spend their money.
“It’s not like they’re in jail. People have to have the freedom to chose,” Ell said at a committee meeting.
And a national anti-poverty organization calls the proposed system discriminatory.
“It’s taking rights away from a sub-set of the population,” said Laurie Rektor, executive director of the Ottawa-based National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO.)
Rektor warned the change could be the start of a slippery slope of dividing up individual’s rights. And she said such a policy could create the public perception that people who receive social assistance can’t be trusted.
Instead, Rektor said policy makers should tackle alcoholism.
“Find a solution that addresses the addiction problem and find a solution for everyone,” Rektor said.
At Nunatsiaq News press time, Nunavut’s Departments of Education and Sustainable development still hadn’t received the Town’s recommendation. They do not have to grant the request.