Welfare Hot Buttons: Women, Work and Social Policy Reform

Article excerpt

Sylvia Bashevkin

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS, 2002

Review by Susan Prentice

Has welfare improved in Britain, Canada, or the US since self-styled moderate leaders replaced conservatives John Major, Brian Mulroney, or George Bush Sr.? "No," argues political scientist Sylvia Bashevkin in the book she had nicknamed the "How Could They?" project. Post-conservatives in all three countries instead followed policies that were fundamentally congruent with the right wingers who preceded them. Welfare under Tony Blair, Jean Chretien and Bill Clinton was, in fact, more punitive and restrictive.

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In all three countries, welfare continues to be a hot button issue, and welfare reform talk is popular. While it was Bill Clinton who vowed to end welfare as we knew it, he and Tony Blair both solemnly promised to make welfare a 'hand up, rather than a handout.' Canadian governments fell in step.

The net effect is that poor-bashing is on the increase and access to welfare has been massively restricted. Governments have demanded that citizens look to the market and employment, instead of the state, for support--a shift that has been particularly damaging for mothers of young children. In the rush to reduce public costs, women with children as young as four months have been redefined as 'employable' and pushed off welfare. …