Saturday, January 13, 2018

Human rights for the poor

In Ontario, it is okay to discriminate against poor people. That doesn't sound right, does it? But it's true.  It is legal to discriminate against someone because they're experiencing poverty or homelessness.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission on discriminatory attitudes toward particular groups, people experiencing poverty received more negative evaluations than any other group. Only 39 per cent of those surveyed had "somewhat positive" feelings towards those receiving social assistance.

If you are refused a job in this province because you look poor, denied service at a shop or restaurant because you are experiencing homelessness or face barriers in accessing housing because you are unemployed, you have no recourse under the law. The Ontario Human Rights Code does not offer protection against discrimination on the basis of social condition, i.e. housing status, level of income, level of education or employment status.
One of the more persistent misconceptions is the idea that poverty is the result of individual choices, and not a failure of the social services systems safety-net that should protect us. Society affirms some social and economic rights like universal public education and healthcare, yet reject the idea that all people have a right to safe, adequate and affordable housing,  food and water and decent well-rewarded work. There is a strong stigma attached to those receiving social assistance, or those experiencing homelessness or underemployment; we see them as the undeserving poor rather than as individuals with a rightful claim to housing, work, health care and education. Furthermore, this stigma creates barriers to accessing jobs or education or healthcare, which keeps people in poverty.

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