The Humanist Dilemma: Is It Immoral to Stay on Public Assistance While Building a Nest Egg?

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Working toward Independence: About two years ago I was given a living inheritance from my dad. I live in social housing as I am on a disability pension because I suffer from depression, anxiety, and psychosis which I take medication for.

I have wanted to invest some of my inheritance, but the only idea I have been able to come up with is an online business. The problem is, if I make more than $4.8K in a given year, my pension, my health/dental care, and housing will be taken away. I have tried to get housing in the open market before, but landlords won’t look at my application because I don’t have a full-time job. I have tried to get housing agencies to help, but with no success.

I was thinking I could start an offshore company and use offshore accounts to hold the earnings I made from the business until I made enough money to buy my own home and then stop my pension when I arrived at that point. But I know this is immoral, or at least it seems to be. Your thoughts on this would be helpful.

–A Canadian


Dear Canadian,

As someone unfamiliar with Canadian laws about this (or US ones, for that matter), I can’t speak to whether earning money from an offshore business violates the terms of your public assistance, nor what other resources or agencies you might contact for advice on your options. Working within the law is moral, and wanting to live independently is laudable.

Perhaps there are other ways you could leverage your income to build a nest egg. Maybe there are investments or trusts that wouldn’t be counted as income due to your special circumstances. Whatever you pursue, you must be particularly careful about risking your existing benefits in your efforts to become independent of them. Why not explore your options with a financial adviser, as well as seeking out other professionals dedicated to helping people like yourself? Maybe you just haven’t contacted the right individuals or organizations yet.

You might also want to become an activist to address the issues people with disabilities face in terms of not being able to rent a home, or the dilemma presented when exceeding a certain income triggers a forfeit of benefits. Join—or form—a group to confront these challenges. It’s a shame when someone with disabilities—who wants to work toward self-sufficiency and independence—faces more barriers than someone without disabilities.

Ed. note: This article as been edited to clarify the nature of the pension in question.