The most severe recession in decades is exposing the gaping holes in Canada’s vaunted social safety net.
Only six months into an economic downturn, social advocates and the jobless say the employment insurance system that was supposed to cushion the fall is, in reality, either inadequate or so hard to access that tens of thousands of newly unemployed just don’t qualify for benefits.
As is always the case in times of economic troubles, it’s the most vulnerable that are being hurt most by the recession.
And it’s those Canadians, along with a smattering of individuals with unusual circumstances, who are finding the EI system not as advertised.
After giving birth last May, Maninder Rehsi of Maple was only able to acquire 430 insurable hours of work before her employer Progressive Moulded Products succumbed to the recession and went out of business, idling 2,000 workers, including her husband. Under EI requirements for her region, she was out of luck because she hadn’t accumulated 600 insurable hours over the previous 12 months.
Now Rehsi says her husband’s benefits are close to exhausted and she doesn’t know how they’ll make ends meet if they don’t find a job soon.
Or Deonarine Persaud of Toronto, who lost his nine-year job at a car parts supplier last May and is now barely getting by on his wife’s Wal-Mart salary, after his EI benefits of about $400 a week ran out.
“It’s not like I don’t want to work,” said Persaud. “I used to work 50, 60 hours a week sometime.
There are no jobs, not just for me, lots of people can’t get jobs now.”