Vive Le Canada

Ground-breaking study follows BC welfare recipients for two years
Date: Wednesday, April 23 2008
Topic: Canadian News


A ground-breaking study that for two years followed British Columbians living on welfare paints a disturbing picture of how people are forced to make ends meet under new welfare rules and low rates.

Ground-breaking study follows BC welfare recipients for two years


Reveals welfare rules and rates cause disturbing harm to most vulnerable


April 22, 2008 | BC Office | Topic(s): Housing & homelessness, Inequality & poverty | Publication Type: Press Release | Research Desk: Economic Security Project



(Vancouver) A ground-breaking study that for two years followed British Columbians living on welfare paints a disturbing picture of how people are forced to make ends meet under new welfare rules and low rates.



The study was released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Raise the Rates Coalition, as part of the Economic Security Project, a joint CCPA-Simon Fraser University initiative.



Living on Welfare in BC: Experiences of Longer-Term “Expected to Work” Recipients followed 62 people from Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.



Among the key findings:



  • Much of day-to-day life on welfare is about survival – a constant and frequently unsuccessful struggle to look after basic needs for food, shelter, health and personal safety – making the task of seeking employment hugely difficult if not impossible for many.

  • The study establishes an important connection between welfare rules and homelessness. Throughout the study, almost one third of participants reported having no fixed address at some point in the previous six months.

  • Welfare benefits are too low. What emerges is a welfare system that is structurally dependent on food banks and other charities in order for people to meet basic needs.

  • Far too many people are being cut off of welfare, almost always inappropriately. Seven people in this study were cut off assistance at some point during the two years. Yet none were in fact job-ready, and all struggled with serious addiction and health issues. Once cut off, all lived on virtually no income, were homeless, and most resorted to illegal activities. Cutting these people off is not helping them or society at large.

  • Many people remain inappropriately categorized in the basic “Expected to Work” welfare category for far too long. Many of those in the study were ultimately re-categorized with Person with a Disability (PWD) status or as having other barriers to employment. The good news: these people receive slightly higher benefits. The tragedy is that it took so long for people to be re-categorized – minimally two years, and frequently much longer.

  • A disturbing number of women in the study either returned to or remained in abusive relationships or engaged in prostitution to make ends meet.

  • Only a small fraction of the participants in this study left poverty. Those who remain on assistance remain very poor, even if re-categorized. Those forced off even more so. And while those who shifted from income assistance to the labour market were better off, most are still below the poverty line.



“We focused on people who had been on social assistance for an extended time and who were officially categorized as ‘employable.’ We looked at how they experience the new, tougher work-obligation rules and the hardships they experience,” says Professor Jane Pulkingham, Chair of Sociology and Anthropology at SFU, and co-author of the study.



...



Among this study’s policy recommendations are the following:


  • Welfare benefit rates must be significantly increased and indexed to inflation.

  • The government must make a commitment to categorize welfare clients appropriately, and in a timely manner.

  • The regulations and administrative practices that permit people being cut off, even temporarily, must be revisited – they are too arbitrary, are applied inappropriately, and cause unacceptable hardship and harm.

  • More meaningful supports must be provided. If more people are to move from welfare to work, they must be provided with housing, help with addiction and health problems, and a level of individualized education and employment supports that can make this possible.




“We urge the provincial government to change its overarching goals, away from a narrow focus on welfare caseload reduction, and move instead to the broader goals of poverty reduction and elimination, and health promotion,” concludes Pulkingham. 



Living on Welfare in BC: Experiences of Longer-Term “Expected to Work” Recipients, by Seth Klein and Jane Pulkingham (with Sylvia Parusel, Kathryn Plancke, Jewelles Smith, Dixon Sookraj, Thi Vu, Bruce Wallace and Jane Worton), can be downloaded at www.policyalternatives.ca.



http://www.policyalternatives.ca//News/2008/04/PressRelease1868/index.cfm





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