Reforming Social Policy

By Swanson, Jean | Canadian Dimension, May-June 1994 | Go to article overview

Reforming Social Policy


Swanson, Jean, Canadian Dimension


Should social policy be used to promote cheap labour and working poverty? Do we want large numbers of people to work and stay in poverty? Do we think governments should subsidize employers who pay low wages? Do we think it's good if people work full time and competently and still can't support a family at a decent living standard?

These are valid questions. We should ask them. And answer them. Our governments shouldn't be designing programs that ignore them. Yet every social policy reform option enthusiastically put forward these last few months ignores these questions.

The Newfoundland proposal would end welfare for so-called employable people. It would reduce UI benefits received by Newfoundlanders by an average of $9,000 each, and give each adult below a certain income level a Basic Income Supplement (BIS) of $3,000. A single person on welfare would get about $6,000 under the existing program, 3,000 less than now. How many would have to scramble for low wage jobs or do b & e's to exist?

The theory is that people could work at low wage jobs and still keep the full BIS of $3,000. It would act as wage supplement for employers unwilling to pay a living wage. Money would also be available for training and education.

Newfoundland's official unemployment rate is 22 per cent. Incredibly, all aspects of this proposal are designed to add even more people into a labour force that doesn't have enough jobs now.

New Brunswick Works provides upgrading and training to people on welfare. There is nothing wrong with this. But where will the jobs be? Like the Newfoundland proposal, the main point of NB Works is to get more people into the labour force even though the unemployment rate is already 13.1 per cent.

After six to nine months with a program of work and/or training, participants in the proposed federal Canadian Youth Service Corps would be given a voucher worth $3,000. What can they use it for? One of the three uses, unbelievably, is "as a subsidy to encourage a prospective employer to hire a program participant. …

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