StatsCan’s latest data on Employment Insurance recipients indicates Canada’s federal government is growing stingier with EI benefits.
There were 6,800 more applications for EI in March than there were in February, but the number of people receiving benefits fell by 5,200, StatsCan data shows.
“As a result, only 38 per cent of unemployed Canadians received EI benefits,” reports economist Erin Weir, who works for the Canadian branch of the United Steelworkers.
The percentage of people who qualify for EI has been steadily declining for decades. It reached around 40 per cent in recent years, though that number can be much lower in specific regions. For instance, in Toronto, it’s only 26 per cent.
As recently as 2007, StatsCan data indicated about 45 per cent of applicants qualified for benefits.
There were 42,100 more people unemployed in Canada in April of this year than there were a year earlier, an increase of 1.2 per cent. But the number of people receiving EI fell by 46,390, a decrease of 8.1 per cent.
The number of new applications for EI also fell, suggesting a larger number of unemployed people aren’t even trying to get EI.
Canada’s EI regime has been significantly toughened under the Harper government.
Changes that came into place earlier this year include tougher, more complex rules for keeping EI benefits, and a new requirement that EI beneficiaries who have used EI frequently have to take any job available to them and accept as much as a 30-per-cent pay cut.
The premiers of the Maritime provinces have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the changes, arguing the new EI policy will devastate their seasonal industries, which often rely on employees collecting EI during the off-season.
EI recipients have been feeling more pressure from the federal bureaucracy lately, with reports of officials making house calls to randomly-selected EI recipients.
"They're abusing us like crazy. We all feel targeted by this law. . . You know it's gone too far when you're being checked upon at home,” said Alma Breau-Thibodeau of the Employment Insurance Action Committee In Defence of Workers.
The federal government has estimated that changes to EI will save the public treasury $12.5 million this year and $33 million next year.
But Canada’s auditor-general, Michael Ferguson, issued a report last month arguing that Canada is losing about $300 million a year in EI overpayments, about $111 million of that lost to fraud.
He suggested the government could collect as much as $662 million from Canadians who previously or currently receive EI payments, though he doubted the government would go after the money.
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