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  • Winnipeg's State of the Inner City 2018 January 3, 2018
    Winnipeg's community-based organizations are standing on shakey ground and confused about how to proceed with current provincial governement measurements.  Read the 2018 State of the Inner City Report.
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Our Schools/Our Selves: Winter 2018 is online now! December 18, 2017
    For the first time, this winter we are making Our Schools/Our Selves available in its entirety online. This issue of Our Schools/Our Selves focuses on a number of key issues that education workers, parents, students, and public education advocates are confronting in schools and communities, and offers on-the-ground commentary and analysis of what needs to […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Charting a path to $15/hour for all BC workers November 22, 2017
    In our submission to the BC Fair Wages Commission, the CCPA-BC highlighted the urgency for British Columbia to adopt a $15 minimum wage by March 2019. Read the submission. BC’s current minimum wage is a poverty-level wage. Low-wage workers need a significant boost to their income and they have been waiting a long time. Over 400,000 […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • CCPA-BC joins community, First Nation, environmental groups in call for public inquiry into fracking November 5, 2017
    Today the CCPA's BC Office joined with 16 other community, First Nation and environmental organizations to call for a full public inquiry into fracking in Britsh Columbia. The call on the new BC government is to broaden a promise first made by the NDP during the lead-up to the spring provincial election, and comes on […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Income gap persists for racialized people, recent immigrants, Indigenous people in Canada October 27, 2017
    In the Toronto Star, CCPA-Ontario senior economist Sheila Block digs into the latest Census release to reveal the persistent income gap between racialized people, recent immigrants, Indigenous people, and the rest of Canada.
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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The Progressive Economics Forum

Social Assistance in Canada

This week I am attending a conference entitled “Welfare Reform in Canada:  Provincial Social Assistance in Comparative Perspective,” organized by Professor Daniel Béland.

The focus of the conference is “social assistance,” which typically encompasses both last-resort social assistance (i.e. ‘welfare’) and disability benefits.  In Ontario, the former is known as Ontario Works and the latter as the Ontario Disability Support Program.  Every Canadian province and territory has its own social assistance system—that is, its own legislation, its own regulations and its own policies.  First Nations with self-government agreements have their own income assistance programs.  And for First Nations without self-government agreements, income assistance is funded by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (but “aligned with the rates and eligibility criteria for off-reserve residents of the reference province or territory”).

I was a discussant on two papers at the conference.  Some of the points I made in that capacity include the following:

Mixed Objectives – I believe that social assistance programs in Canada have two major objectives: 1) to give their recipients enough money to live on; and 2) to not give their recipients enough money to live on (in part to encourage recipients to look for paid employment, in part to discourage would-be recipients from becoming recipients, and in part out of a fear that some voters might oppose higher benefit levels).  In light of this inherent contradiction, I think that social assistance is a challenging program to design, administer and defend.

Tax Credits – Tax credits (federal, provincial and territorial) have taken on greater importance for social assistance recipients over the past 15 years.  Some households with children now earn (slightly) more on an annual basis from tax credits than they do from social assistance (though it should be noted that tax credits are much less substantial for singles without dependents).  Any thoughtful analysis of social assistance analysis in Canada must consider the role of tax credits.

Training – In a March column, Thomas Walkom argues that senior levels of government in Canada do not make substantial investments in training for workers.  Nor do employers (for the most part).  Rather, “cheap workers,” who are already trained, are imported from abroad.  This raises an important question: if senior levels of government are unwilling to provide social assistance recipients with training, how realistic is it to expect them to be successful in the labour market?

Poverty Reduction – Most provinces and territories have implemented ‘poverty reduction strategies‘ in recent years.  The jury is still out on how effective they will prove to be; however, it could be that, going forward, voters would find improvements to social assistance programs (including increases in benefit levels) more palatable if such changes are made as part of poverty reduction strategies that have clear goals, including goals related to both job creation and training.

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