welfare and health

December 22, 2009

Doctor Roland Wong has been filling out special dietary allowance forms for a few people on welfare at his Spadina clinic. He recently came under fire after a complaint from Toronto City Councillor Rob Ford that he is breaking the law by authorizing the allowance without properly checking the facts. The allowance gives people on welfare an additional $100 to $200 a month for buying healthy food. Doctor Wong states that he follows all the rules but refuses to interrogate his patients and treat them like criminals.

“If you put it all in perspective and taking a look at what Mike Harris has done in the past, then you realize that poverty is pervasive. And we know that poverty is the major determinant of health. Given that. how can we just let it go on?”

I applaud Doctor Wong for his courage to sign the forms when it would have been easy to ignore the people. Welfare recipients have been marginalized in this province since the Mike Harris days when Mike and his party distracted Ontarians by finding an easy and identifiable enemy – welfare recipients. Harris had much of Ontario believing that every one of them was a “welfare cheat”. Without a doubt, there are welfare cheats out there and I detest them; they rob from the poor to become rich. But I also know that there are corrupt auto insurance claimants out there, but we don’t marginalize all drivers as a group.

It’s sometimes tempting to point at someone that we perceive as getting a “free ride” when our own lives are debt-laden and difficult. But anyone incited to this erroneous belief should try the welfare diet for a couple of weeks before solidifying their position. I have personally seen several families on welfare – their lives are unenviable except for the happiness many feel when sharing with others. It is an interesting paradox that the people with the least seem most likely to share the little that they have. I have witnessed this phenomenon equally in India and in Canada.

Today, several doctors in Ontario signed a letter to the College of Physicians and Surgeons asking that no censure is placed on Doctor Wong. That’s a good sign; let’s hope that his patients also surround him with support through his ordeal for “bending the rules” to help marginalized people.

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