A life on social assistance in Canada is not easy.
The recipient gets these benefits from three to ten different social programs. All of these programs have forms to fill out and require various criteria. There is a fair amount of footwork and talking to various civil servants to get the benefits (it is probably easier to find a job). But once the benefits have been approved, the recipient needs only to make occasional reporting to the civil servants.
Some benefits are paid out by check or bank deposit. There are no restrictions where this money goes. Having children to take care of will increase the benefits, but these increases do not put the care-giver into some middle class income.
Some benefits are not cash related. Housing is often paid by the social assistance agency to make sure the landlord gets the rent money. To ensure the family maintains its dental health, the social agency pays the dental bills. The social agency may also pay tuition to put the welfare person back in school and school fees for kids. And if the recipient is undergoing addiction treatment, those fees may also be covered. And health care is free for everyone in Canada, so that part of life is not affected by social assistance.
Benefits cover rent, food, utilities (including a cell phone and cable), public transit, and a little discretionary income. Most welfare homes have a TV and a computer. They have reasonable furniture and kitchen appliances. But their homes won’t make the cover of magazines for interior designers. But there is generally no eating in restaurants or going the movie theatre. If a welfare person has a car, he is probably not driving it very far. There are no nice vacations on social assistance. A single welfare person in Canada is probably “earning” $1000 a month in money and housing benefits.
Recipients can be divided into two groups. There are those whose life has taken a strange twist, and they find themselves in a financial bind. They get their life back together and are often back in the workforce within six months. They have no need of further social assistance. But most will acknowledge the importance of the social assistance during their time of transition.
The second group are those recipients are into welfare for the long term. Some of them have a physical disability. Some of them have a mental disability. And I would say that if they can’t find the motivation to find employment and move their income from $1000 to $1800 a month, that is a mental disability. And this brings up a good point: Should we be really be fobbing off this mindset into the workforce? Chances are these “workers” will be fired shortly after being hired—and the employer has incurred a recruitment cost that did not pay out. I think many employers would say it is cheaper for society to pay these people a minimalistic income than force them to find a job.
If seemingly abled-bodied welfare recipients can’t hold a job, then cutting social assistance means one of two things: succumbing to the elements, disease, or starvation or engaging in petty crime. Again I think many businesses would prefer paying a minimalistic income than to having many more shoplifters in their store.
The only flaw I see in Canadian social assistance is that it doesn’t encourage those who may have capacity to work 20 hours a week to find that part time work. If a social assistance client finds a job that works well with her capacity and earns $200 a week, that money is deducted from her social assistance benefit. In other words, she is not rewarded for the extra effort she puts into society. So she makes a rational decision, especially for her mindset: she quits the part-time job. Her mindset will not let her see that keeping the part-time job is actually boosting her confidence and sense of self-worth and learn some new job skills. And she just might later develop the fortitude to work full-time.
This can be rectified by a guaranteed basic income (GBI) where everyone gets around $1000 a month. That potential part-time worker can earn another $200 a week and not be penalized for it. A GBI will also eliminate a lot of civil servants who decide who gets social assistance and who does not. Civil servants will only be needed to assist those who can’t handle their cash.
All in all, I think the Canadian social assistance model works reasonably well. But it should be replaced with a GBI.