Front commun pour la justice sociale

Position of the Common Front for Social Justice on the Household Income Policy

Document presented to Minister Carmel Robichaud by Auréa Cormier,
Provincial Council Member of the Common Front for Social Justice and

Coordinator of the Justice and Solidarity Team

Fredericton, N. B.: September 19th, 2007

Background

In January 2006, the Common Front for Social Justice (CFSJ) and the N. B. Advisory Council on the Status of Women invited New Brunswick organizations to take a stand against the definition of "Economic Unit". Several scenarios were submitted to the Advisory Council by community groups to show that the Economic Unit Policy prevents New Brunswickers on social assistance from calling on their support systems, unless those systems are able to fully support them financially. They end up isolated, worse off and disempowered. In September 2006, the election platform of Shawn Graham stated that a Liberal Government would re-examine the definition of the Economic Unit. At the 1st New Brunswick Summit on Poverty held in Moncton in October 2006, over 200 participants agreed that it was urgent to revise the "Economic Unit Policy". Currently, some social assistance recipients are penalized by what has been renamed the "Household Income Policy". Today, the CFSJ is asking, along with the N. B. Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Comité des 12, for important changes to this policy.

Reasons for the change

The present definition of an "Economic Household" is one where two or more persons reside together, share the responsibilities of the household and benefit economically from the sharing of food, shelter and/or facilities. In practice, the Economic Household Policy discourages some N. B. social welfare recipients from helping their kin or friends in need. It also violates our values of interdependence and personal dignity. The legal and moral responsibility to support each other is evacuated as well as the right to live in a boarding situation.

The current definition of Economic Household, as stated in the Family and Community Services Policies, can lead to social exclusion. No other province but New Brunswick has made non-sharing of housing a condition for eligibility to social welfare. Yet, in this province, simply sharing the responsibilities of a household is all that is needed for two adults to be considered as one Economic Household. For Revenue Canada, Statistics Canada and most other social programs, their understanding is quite different. When two or three adults with no family or conjugal ties are sharing housing, this is how they are viewed:

·        Revenue Canada regards them as two or three persons who must produce two or three independent income tax reports.

·        Statistics Canada neither counts them as an economic household nor as a Census family. When StatsCan is collecting statistics on income, each person is counted as an individual.

·        Most social programs view the living arrangements of two or three individuals with no family or conjugal ties as irrelevant. This is the case of such needs-based programs as the provincial Low Income Seniors' Benefit, the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement, the Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan. The same is true for health and private pension plans, business loan programs, etc.

Discrimination arising from the Household Income Policy

In the eyes of the Department of Family and Community Services, simply residing together and sharing household responsibilities constitutes an Economic Household. Social welfare recipients are thus discriminated against in that they are considered financially responsible for the others living with them. The social assistance cheque is provided to a household, not to a family or an individual. The recipient of the social assistance cheque is the head of the household. This automatically puts the other (or others) in a dependency situation, thus depriving these of their right to autonomy. Family and Community Services Policies state that the Household Income Policy was developed in order to ensure we do not discriminate against people on the basis of gender, marital status or sexual orientation. Yet, the policy discriminates against some adult children with a gross income over $20,000 from caring for a welfare-dependant parent. It discriminates against two social welfare recipients who wish to economize by sharing rent, hydro, telephone bills, etc. If for example, one of the three people living at the same address applies for social assistance, the income of the two others will be considered as revenue and assistance will likely be denied.  If, however, all three have no income and are considered able to work, they would be eligible for one social assistance cheque of $558 per month. This is considerably less than the monthly benefits they could receive as individuals living alone ($276 each, or $828 together). If all three are unable to work because of a medical problem, they would receive only one social assistance cheque of $807. This is much less than $505 x 3 or $1,515.

Family and Community Services has granted several exceptions to the Economic Household Policy that are to be commended: certain cases of an adult child with income; 16-18 year old single parents in their parental home; blind, deaf or disabled; participants in the deinstitutionalized project of the Department of Health and Wellness; elderly parents living with their adult child; long term needs; student roommates; transitional assistance clients in their parental home and certain youth.

Cases where the Household Income Policy is discriminatory and should be abolished include:

·        An adult child with a gross income of $20,000 or more who is taking care of a parent on social assistance. The Advisory on the Status of Women has documented such cases.

·        Roommates receiving social assistance and who are not married or common-law couples. These people should not be penalized for sharing a dwelling. In fact, this will simply allow them to better cover their basic needs and pay less on rent, electricity, telephone, etc.

·        Conditions placed on sharing rental accommodations for social welfare recipients should be abolished.

·        Single parents on social assistance should be exempt from the Household Income Policy.

 Recommendation

·        The Common Front for Social Justice, along with the N. B. Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Comité des 12, urge the provincial government to allow social assistance recipients to share accommodation with others and to determine eligibility for social assistance on an individual basis in the case of single persons who are not legally married nor in a legally recognized common-law relationship, taking into account the income and needs of the applicant.

·        We recommend that Family and Community Services ensure that the definition of the Household Income Policy used to determine social assistance eligibility corresponds to the definition of financial support obligations of legally married or common-law couples as set out in other laws for other New Brunswickers.

·        We recommend that the Minister of Family and Community Services present these requests to the Premier and all Cabinet members concerned with this issue.

Conclusion

Many needy New Brunswickers could advantageously share accommodations with relatives, friends or roommates. The Household Income Policy of the Department of Family and Community Services is currently inventing relationships of financial interdependence and legal obligations where none exist. No other province but New Brunswick has made the non-sharing of housing a condition for eligibility to welfare. We demands that this discriminatory practice toward social welfare recipients be abolished.