How our tangled social programs pathologize the transition to self-reliance

Life is tough for poor people – we know that. Why do we develop public policies that make it even tougher?

Working-age social assistance recipients in Ontario, especially those who are public housing residents, live with disincentives. The more they earn, the more they lose in benefits; when they tell the truth, they are penalized.

The programs within the social assistance and housing systems work in isolation from each other. When people start to earn, the various benefit systems, as well as public housing, often take back more than they leave behind, giving people little or no incentive to work or to become more self-reliant.

The problems get worse when children in the family turn 18. They are then judged by social benefit systems to be adults, although they still have no post-secondary education. If they move out, they must work rather than get a higher education. If they stay home, the family’s benefits go down anyway. At the same time, rent goes up because there is another earning “adult” in the family unit.

Canadian newcomers often spend long periods receiving social assistance and programs such as public housing. In Canada’s cities, living costs are high and the pay is not enough to maintain a decent living. Access to work at a living wage is also a problem for disadvantaged youth, for foster children aging out of state care, and other poor, non-immigrant Canadians.

This paper aims to show how our social programs discourage these groups of disadvantaged Canadians from achieving self-reliance. We make recommendations for changing social policies, so that the transition to self-reliance is a healthy, supported process – not something that poor people get blamed and punished for.

Read the entire report in PDF at the Metcalf Foundation website

Download a Word version of the report

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