Do welfare rules provide a route out of poverty in Alberta? by John Stapleton
John Stapleton worked for the Ontario Government in the Ministry of Community and Social Services and its predecessors for 28 years in the areas of social assistance policy and operations. He is the founder of Open Policy Ontario.
Do welfare rules provide a route out of poverty in Alberta?
As someone from ‘out of town’ (Ontario) with 37 years of experience with welfare programs both inside and outside government, I was invited to comment on Alberta Works by Vibrant Communities Calgary.
Those of us with long memories know that cuts to social assistance in Canada first occurred in Alberta in 1993. Not to be outdone, Ontario joined in the smackdown with an almost 22% decrease in benefit levels in 1995. These cuts were harsh and were implemented largely in reaction to the highest numbers of people receiving assistance since the Great Depression. There was also a widespread impression that life was just a bit too comfortable for recipients of these programs.
Tough rules and low rates did bring down caseloads across Canada. And they have stayed down comparatively speaking all throughout the greatest economic downturn since the Depression. But are lower caseloads the only outcome we want to achieve? One of the unintended consequences of focusing on caseload numbers is that we trade a basic needs model of assistance for a destitution model. In so doing, we lose sight that the main purpose of social assistance is to get recipients out of poverty.
Over the past many years, I have been asking ordinary Canadians what they think poor people ought to do to escape poverty. It’s my own straw poll but the answers I get will surprise no one. Read More