Sunday, November 16, 2008

Part One: Goals & Objectives

As we have stated in a number of our blog entries, the impact workfare has had on employers is significant. True, the program gives managers a source of cheap labor, but also true, it puts the employer in a difficult position regarding whether the staff member actually works out. There is a great deal of complexity to this issue, because while the “cheap labor” piece is certainly a reality, so to is the fact that many employees involved in the workfare program are not conducive to the requirements of the positions assigned to them.

Looking at this subject through a systemic viewpoint, one can see what areas have a direct impact on a worker’s suitability. Take education for example, this is an element that has massive ramifications for the individual and the opportunities that are available to them. Many of those involved in workfare do not have transferable skills, as many have not completed high school or university. The assistance program does not prepare workfare recipients for meaningful employment (jobs that KEEP them employed and allow the said person to support his or her family).

Another important factor is our country's primary language. Given that we are social beings and that communication is our primary means of interaction, language is a major facet in being "successful" in society. For those whose first language is one other than English, securing meaningful employment can be a major problem. What about those who are mentally ill, or who suffer from an ailment that compromises their job possibilities in a similar manner? As it is with many who are living with mental illness, individuals often suffer from a myriad of challenges ~ all of which create barriers to employment.

Bringing all this together, an alternative to current workfare policies would be the provision of additional resources to the recipient over a specific period of time. These resources would include access to childcare, employment counseling, supportive counseling (likely through the position's employee assistance program), and most importantly, skills training. The skills training would be through a institution such as Fanshawe College (which trains men and women for employment in trade arenas such as nursing, support work, Tool & Dye, etc.).
Part Two: Recommendations (to die for!!!)

Given that independent organizations and companies provide those in the program with employment, there would have to be a dramatic restructuring of the funding that is used for the process of giving financial assistance. A previous blog entry cited the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton (RMOC) and their idea of "economic incentives." It means that the provincial government pays approximately half of the workfare recipient’s wages and the employer pays the other half. For the most part, this is already being carried out through the Ontario Works program.

In addition, however, the RMOC endorses the distribution of several "resources" to the worker, so that reclamation into independence (along a reasonable time period) is assured. Childcare and access to an employee assistance program (for coping and/or stress related issues) would be made available. Employment counseling would be an important piece as many workers do not leave the workfare program better equipped for entrance into meaningful employment than when they entered. Thus, skills-training from an institution such as Fanshawe College would be made available as well, as the kind of education received would prepare the workfare recipient for lasting and competitive employment. This seems like a worthy option, as it would allow extra funding to the employer on the condition that those employed under their helm would receive adequate resources/assistance.

The government reacts to the pressure put on by “the people” when an element in society is not working. In this case, it would be the continuation of taxpayer dollars contributing to welfare. The objective of this new policy would be to increase the sustainability and effectiveness of the time period that individuals are involved in workfare. The incentives given to employers, one would hope, would be sufficient to make providing resources to the employee a worthwhile and “painless” endeavor. In return, the worker would have adequate childcare resources, counseling through their employee assistance plan, and skills training. Thus, the idea is that there will be a greater likelihood of success, the message being: "If you do this, we'll do this for you."
Part Three: The Implementation Plan

Economists say that of all people within the province there is a population that is "employable." It basically means all people who are able to work. Of THAT population, scholars relay that there will always be a percentage that remain unemployed. The reasons for this remain unclear, but regardless, this "grouping" of employable individuals will NOT work.

It must always be kept in mind that there is a multitude of reasons why someone would remain in a position where they do not work: sickness, lack of transferable skills, language barriers, as well as lack of childcare. Under no circumstances does this argument seek to pinpoint a particular subset of people. The point of this discussion is to relay how workfare, at the core, is inherently problematic; we cannot force someone to work. However, we cannot sit idly by while a person collects financial assistance without any form of plan to get off that assistance and return to independence and ideally, empowerment (a place where the person can manage his or her own life).

It would be important to conduct research so as to produce statistics that relay information on what barriers people in Workfare are facing (not just simultaneously but also based on their involvement with the program). Hopefully there are documents which suggest the typical outcomes that recipients have met while involved in the program. This would help compose a profile of which areas seem to be the biggest challenges. I think it would be important to campaign to the public so that an understanding is developed of the barriers and challenges to successful employment.

Ultimately, however, we'd need to get our message out to the companies so that they understand the changes that might be coming. To get their sense of how this will work, and how easily, would be vital. The media would be instrumental in this process. Lastly, workfare recipients must have a worker that helps them monitor their progress in the program and assists the person through any problems that arise. This same worker could submit a questionnaire that would get the person's opinions on how these intended policy changes would affect them.
Part Four: Evaluation Time (Ulp! Scary. An A? B+? An E! LOL)

The way to evaluate these policy changes would be similar to the ways in which any program is evaluated for its effectiveness and sustainability. Consulting the monthly statistics would be extremely important as this will compose a profile which monitors the checks and balances of all workfare recipients. Then, we could take a look at how other municipalities/geographic areas are coping with the changes. Are there significant outcomes? If so, are these outcomes a result of the new policy or because of other factors? Do additional parameters need to be examined and/or implemented? After this, cross-tabulating would generate an even greater understanding of where the province is at with regard to the changes.

In addition, the recipients themselves would obviously need to be allowed a space to talk about their experiences with these changes. Obtaining this information through counseling records would be unethical and therefore impossible. However, their workers could submit a questionnaire that asks the individual to write down comments on how he or she is doing. Do you have a better sense of confidence in your ability to meet your challenges? Do you feel as though the resources given to you have helped you in meeting those challenges?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Methods of Monitoring and Evaluation: Child Care

Methods of evaluation for the social assistance child care allowance as well as the beginnings of a universal child care service will be approached through an anti-oppressive lens in which attention will be directed towards issues of culture and vulnerable populations including women and minority groups. A process and outcome evaluation will be conducted to examine the policy initiatives.

The process evaluation will assist in the continued development of the child care initiatives. This evaluation will be used to determine if the target population of low income families is being reached. It will also examine the specificities of the services being delivered in terms of the child care allowance and funded care services, and whether these services are encompassing the programs and population it was intended to.

An outcome evaluation will also be completed on an annual basis once the policy is in place. This evaluation will be used to determine the impact and effectiveness of the child care initiatives. This evaluation will determine whether the initiative is meeting the outlined objectives of moving families off of social assistance and above the poverty line as well as preventing families from entering into a position below the poverty line. It will also examine if the initiative has resulted in the objective of general empowerment for women and real choices in terms of labour market participation. This evaluation will also be concerned with the ratio of benefits to cost through the utilization of a cost-effectiveness study.

Both quantitative and qualitative methods will be used in the overall evaluation. With the utilization of a humanist perspective we are hoping to pick up on the differing cultural and social needs that the Workfare policy missed during development. This perspective will involve qualitative interviews and focus groups with key informants, service user and provider feedback. It will also include participatory methods including involving various community organizations as well as service users and providers. Quantitative methods will also be utilized to provide the study with greater depth, but also to legitimize the data as government often find this type of data to be the most effective (whether or not this is true). Quantitative data will include cost-effectiveness studies, file reviews, demographic information, as well as evidence about the value of childhood development programs.

For More Information on Child Care policy plan:

White, Linda. (2001). Child care, women’s labour market participation and labour market
policy effectiveness in Canada. Canadian Public Policy v. xxvii no. 4 pp. 385-405.

Cleveland, Gordon and Hyatt, Douglas (1996) Child care, social assistance and work:
Lone mothers with preschool children. Applied research branch strategic policy: Human resources development Canada.

Ministry of Community and Social Services

Canadian Child Care Advocacy Association:

Originally known as: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation

Pros and Cons: Child Care


o Social assistance childcare allowance that does not requiring receipts allows parent(s) to utilize private child care services which are more affordable.
o Research by Linda White demonstrates, through a comparative analysis of various countries, that the increased provision of childcare increases women’s labour force attachment, while the lack of childcare has a negative impact on women’s labour force attachment. This outcome of increasing childcare through an allowance as well as universal child care fits well with the labour force attachment model, while also addressing structural concerns.
o Social assistance childcare allowance provides parent(s) choice of more quality childcare options, providing funds to pay upfront for services that otherwise they could not afford or wait to claim on their income tax.
o Universal care provides a quality setting for early childhood emotional, physical and mental development.
o Social assistance childcare allowance that is provided regardless of who is caring for the child allows parent(s) the options of caring for their children at home, or having family members care for their children. This associates a sense of value to domestic work.
o Both social assistance childcare allowances as well as universal child care takes into account the gendered nature of poverty, allowing women more freedom from the childcare role, while accepting that women are most likely affected by childcare concerns.


o Requires increased funding at a time when the world is concerned about an economic crisis. It may be hard to engender support for universal programs and increased funding for welfare at this point in time.
o Universal care promotes the idea that children should be placed in day care services outside of the home, implying that every parent should be partaking in the mainstream labour force. This does not address the misconception that parents work (and most often women) in the home is not economically valuable.
o Universal childcare requires massive structural changes in government funding and responsibilities. The federal government would be required to remove some of the power of the provincial/territorial governments in terms of social spending designs and implementation. There could be concern of too much power being placed in the hands of the federal government.
o Geographical concerns may have a factor. Rural communities may have less access to government regulated universal child care.
o Universal child care diminishes the legitimacy of in-home private child care, adversely affecting those businesses. Also, provides parent(s) with less choice concerning their child care options by providing government regulated services, as opposed to upfront funds.
o By not requiring receipts, allowing family members to be caretakers, and not requiring a working status these may act as disincentives to find employment or move off of social assistance.

Implementation: Child Care

The development of child care services should follow an outline of federal standards. According to studies done by the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC) child care services must meet the standard of universal entitlement in which every child is guaranteed services. These services must also be regulated by provincial bodies ensuring that high quality child care is provided. In addition, childcare services must be either public or non-profit organizations to allow for greater regulation and accountability. Operating grants must be supplied to increase the expansion of child care services. Most importantly, these services must be affordable by all citizens. In addition, this plan must include staff recruitment and education objectives, possibly providing subsidies for child care training.

In addition to outlining standards, a means and method of funding must also be considered. Governments must increase spending on child care programs by directly funding child care spaces. The federal government needs to be more involved in social service implementation, and determine specifically how much money will be allocated to child care, taking this decision out of the hands of the provinces. The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada suggests that a schedule for federal funding to reach 1% of the GDP (about 10 billion annually) within a 15 year period. This figure is only about one sixth of the public education budget. This funding would be supplemented by 20% of parent contribution, unless parent(s) could prove insufficient finances. In addition, the 5.7 million spent on the CCED would eventually be eliminated. The federal government would be responsible for the child care expansion and operations, while the provinces would be responsible for existing funding of child care as well as training costs for child care workers. Under this plan it is estimated that by the 15th year, 50 percent of children under 6 years would have full access to child care services.

In order for the plan of universal child care as well as the short term plan of child care allowances for those on Ontario Works to be implemented, there must be public support. Luckily, child care is very popular among Canadians. A poll completed by CCAAC reveals that 90% of those polled believed that Canada should have a national child care plan. By using media as well as public relations approaches (distributing literature, holding conferences etc.) to market this child care initiative, it will create sentiment for the well-being of children, regardless of economic background.

A public policy dialogue must also be established to facilitate the interaction between governments and community organizations at all levels of policy implementation. One way to approach this would be by advocating (beginning with your local member of parliament and possibly through the utilization of internet petition forms) for the completion of a special commission or task force to examine the benefits and limitations of this child care initiative. If this special commission was conducted with great citizen partnership including public hearings and public submission of briefs, it would draw attention to the need for the policy response.

Recommendations: Child Care

Currently, under Ontario Works an individual may be eligible to deduct a maximum of $390 per month per child from their declared income which is only allowable over a three month period. This does not mean that individuals are paid out $390 per month. What this means is that the total amount of social assistance you are entitled to will not be reduced if you can prove how much money you spent on child care. Let’s consider an extremely simplistic example, if you receive $1000 a month from social assistance and you earn $500 a month at work, the amount you made at work would be deducted from your social assistance cheque, making it $500. However, if you can prove that you paid $390 in childcare, your cheque would increase back up to $990.

There are further restrictions on this income earnings deductible through Workfare. If considering a two parent family where only one parent is working, this deduction will not apply because the government assumes the other parent is providing care for the child. In a single parent family the caretaker must be working or training in order to qualify. Therefore, this policy does not take into account job searching as well as family and health responsibilities in which childcare is required. Also, a recipient cannot receive this deduction if the child is being cared for by a family member. These same restrictions apply under the federal Child Care Expense Deduction.
All Canadians can attempt to claim childcare expenses through the CCED (with the very maximum being 7000/year). For Ontario Works recipients, they are only allowed to claim that which was not added to their total earnings. For example, if childcare costs totaled 500 per month, and were claimed with Ontario Works, 390 dollars would not have been taken off their regular social assistance cheque. Therefore, a recipient can only claim 110 from CCED. In addition, CCED requires that individuals pay for the full amount of child care expense upfront. An individual can then attempt to claim these expenses at tax time. Therefore, CCED is advantageous for parents whose incomes are high enough to cover their child care expenses throughout the year, these families are also more able to afford formal daycare. Another issue is that many low income and Ontario Works parents cannot claim CCED because they are required to provide receipts and many of the less expensive independent caregivers refuse to provide receipts to avoid paying income tax.

The federal government also established the federal Child Tax Benefit program. This is a tax free, income tested monthly payment for children under 18. In 1999 the benefit totaled 1,020 per child per year, low income families can receive additional funds of 605 per year. However, CTB, like CCED and the following National Child Benefit (NCB) do nothing to provide more affordable and greater numbers of child care services. Federal, provincial and territorial governments have also agreed to implement the National Child Benefit (NCB) which included childhood intervention programs, child care, cash benefits etc. This was a good step forward, however spending on these programs has not totaled much. The Canadian Health and Social Transfer (CHST) which replaced the Canadian Assistance Plan is a block transfer grant to the provinces to provide heath care, social assistance, postsecondary and education funding. The decisions as to which program money is filtered into is left to the discretion of the provinces, with childcare usually be left on the back burner.

Based on the review of childcare compensation under Ontario Works as well as the federal compensation programs applicable to all Canadians (in theory), I would recommend the following:

Short Term Recommendations:
Target Population: families receiving social assistance
Objective: Transition people out of poverty

• Provide all those receiving social assistance with a monthly childcare allowance regardless of working status, family member status or provision of receipts.
• Provide this assistance as an upfront payment of 390/month/child and do not include it in the calculation of earnings.
• Provide this assistance during a 1 year period, with the possibility for extension under extenuating circumstances.

Long Term Recommendations:
Target Population: All Canadian families, especially those of low income
Objective: Preventative poverty measure
• Development of a more universal child care system.
o Increase federal funding with the implementation of goals and timelines.
o Increase number of childcare services available ensuring affordability.
o Ensure quality standards are met within these services.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Attaining Support for Transition: How Do We Do It?

Authorities providing social services at the government level whom recognize the short and long term solutions to developing a policy with practices that acknowledge a transition process from social assistance to work, instead of deviantizing those who cannot work by subjecting them to undesirable participation in the labour market with inadequate pay and benefits will be making real change to workfare, making Ontario Works the program that the government of Ontario sets it out to be. Unfortunately, the current workfare system deviantizes those in need of social assistance because it is reflective of the public opinion, an opinion that is shaped by conservative ideology deviantizing those who cannot work, or who come from a cycle of working in low paid jobs. In order for change to happen, it is up to authorities providing social assistance (likely at the community level) to partner with groups receiving social assistance, including those who are recipients of workfare, to brainstorm recommendations for change that are reflective of the long and short term solutions recommended, and reflect the voice of an oppressed group of social service recipients. These focus groups can also come up with an anti-oppressive lens to help de-centre public opinion of those in need of social assistance from a conservative ideology, and develop strategies for consulting the right government officials in order to map where and how concrete change can happen.

In the Metcalf Foundation report, three focus groups were met with in order to assert changes that need to happen to social assistance programs. These changes need to happen across all programs, including Ontario Works, in order to reduce the overlap that further deviantizes and oppresses recipients by reducing the amount of benefits they can receive that they actually need, and in order to maximize the benefits and training that they receive while on Ontario Works. Changes recommended in a focus group from St. Christopher House in Toronto in 2007 required improvements to training and education, housing and homelessness, and minimum wages, assets, and adequacy and included the following:

Training and Education
provide higher benefits to facilitate education,
put greater emphasis on education rather than warehousing people,
provide training for real jobs where there is real work, and
do not limit education to children - allow life-long learning.

Housing and Homelessness
create more affordable housing,
get rid of the shelter system,
stop studying homelessness and do something about it,
build subsidized housing and get rid of boarding houses,
provide grace periods on rental increases when income from other
sources rise (but keep in mind that a grace period would not solve the
underlying problems),
stop very large rent increases when people get jobs, and
stop building ghettos and start building affordable housing that’s spread
out into various communities.

Minimum Wages, Assets, Adequacy
raise minimum wages and social assistance rates,
reduce onerous reporting requirements where one has to “tell their life
story over and over again” to get benefits
reduce excessive paperwork - “They already have more information on
us than we do,”
raise asset limits to $5,000 so that recipients can save money,
create custom solutions that are tailored to the situation that low income
people actually face,
deliver basic benefits through the tax system,
increase basic income tax credits (such as refundable credits),
provide better, more timely information to recipients so they don’t learn
social services rules when their benefits are already being cut off.

In order to start to put these changes into action, focus groups need first to work towards changing public opinion, and shifting it away from a conservative/oppressive lens in order to be able to have any influence at the government level. If governments are to buy into an anti-oppressive plan to improve social assistance, that plan has to reflect public opinion. In order to shape public opinion, focus groups need to look at the conservative ideology shaping public opinion of social assistance recipients as a "welfare cheat" lens and frame the anti-oppressive lens they are fighting for as an "achieving self-sufficiency" lens. Plugging behaviours that workfare recipients do into these frameworks that they often have to do in order to support their transition into the work force will show how public opinion can shift. The following table from the Metcalfe Foundation report looks at 5 deviantized behaviours under a conservative public ideology of welfare and demonstrates how public opinion can shift to an anti-oppressive one if it is re-framed to reflect an "achieving self-sufficiency" lens:

Behaviour: Acquiring a spouse
Welfare Cheat Lens: "She's got a boyfriend"
Achieving Self-Sufficiency Lens: Forming a viable and economic family unit to escape poverty

Behaviour: Help from family
Welfare Cheat Lens: "Getting illicit money."
Achieving Self-Sufficiency Lens: Reinforces role of families helping their own members, helping build a base to escape poverty.

Behaviour: Having a bank account-being seen in a bank.
Welfare Cheat Lens: "Hiding money from the system."
Achieving Self-Sufficiency Lens: Returning to normalcy, building assets, demonstrating money-management skills, building a base to excape poverty.

Behaviour: Getting a job
Welfare Cheat Lens: "Working and not reporting it - working under the table"
Achieving Self-Sufficiency Lens: "The first major building block in becoming self-sufficient and returning to normalcy and becoming self-sufficient.

Behaviour: Spending on non-necessities.
Welfare Cheat Lens: "How can they afford that if they are supposed to be poor?"
Achieving Self-Sufficiency Lens: Returning to normalcy - taking responsibility for a household budget - making choices for better or worse - weighing risk and responsibility consistent with adult behaviour.

With a shift in public opinion in place away from a conservative ideology that deviantizes citizens who are recipients of workfare, real policy change to acknowledge the transition out of social assistance and into a job can take place at the government level. Recommendations from focus groups made of service recipients, agencies, boards, and commissions can be brought to government attention as the government either directly (through municipalities) or indirectly (through mandates placed on 'external' funders) fund agency programs. Since no agency wants to "bite the hand that feeds it," agencies need to take on the client centred approach in order to fight for changes on behalf of workfare recipients. Out of a client centred-approach, larger goals that tackle some of the short and long term solutions to recognize a transition process out of workfare (i.e ensuring that all agencies, programs, policies etc have common definitions of groups to prevent overlap that reduces benefits to be received between services) can be recommended by agencies to Service Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Government Services. This will ensure that favourable people-centred government policies will always be on the table during policy discussions at this level. As long as these policy discussions stay on the table and reflect public opinion (as shifted through focus groups), real change can be enacted with buy-in from finance ministers who budget such changes in social services, and most importantly, the Premier, whom has the final authority if structural reform is to take place.

Recommendations for acknowledging the transition from workfare to work obtained from: “Why is it so Tough to Get Ahead? How Our Tangled Social Programs Pathologize the Transition to Self-Reliance.” John Stapleton, Metcalfe Foundation: Toronto, 2007.

Long Term Recommendations for the Transition Policy

Ensuring the successful transition from workfare to participation in the work force long term involves the removal of barriers to adequate and successful participation in social service programs that are in place to support self-sufficiency, the establishment of supports in policies that acknowledge the transition process that is intended to take place when people participate in Ontario Works as recipients, and efforts to change public opinion of social assistance to shift away from the conservative ideology that is responsible for deviantizing Ontario Works recipients through policy and practice. According to the Metcalf Foundation report, this involves the "creation of a new government responsibility centre, re-orienting Ontario Works to support transition, and publicly championing the road to self-reliance."

The creation of a new government responsibility centre will help to remove the barriers to adequate and successful participation in social service programs that are in place to support self sufficiency. While these barriers come from "unintended consequences related to program overlap and duplication" improved communication between social service authorities to prevent this overlap needs to occur.

Re-orienting Ontario Works to support transition will ensure the establishment of supports in policies and practice that acknowledge the transition process that is intended to take place when people participate in Ontario Works as recipients. Such steps would require "Governments to create a program where an Ontario supplement and the Working Income Tax Benefit are combined. Authorities also need to raise asset levels to allow Ontario Works recipients to save money that is direly needed for job hunt expenses and emergencies that could occur during the transition from social assistance to work.

Finally, publicly championing the road to self reliance will address the need to change public opinion of social assistance to shift away from the conservative ideology that is responsible for deviantizing Ontario Works recipients through policy and practice. This primarily involves the creation of a public education program that "champions continuous improvement and counters the unrealistic expectation of making sudden leaps into self-sufficiency.” The public education initiative should be backed by a group of public relations firms, communications specialists and pollsters in order to "resolve the contradictions in public attitudes towards acceptance of public assistance by working age adults." Such steps will ensure the creation of a coherent social policy whereby public opinion is in support of the transition of Ontario Works recipients into a competitive job market instead of reflecting unrealistic expectations that Ontario Works recipients will make sudden leaps into work and embrace low paid jobs.

Recommendations for acknowledging the transition from workfare to work obtained from: “Why is it so Tough to Get Ahead? How Our Tangled Social Programs Pathologize the Transition to Self-Reliance.” John Stapleton, Metcalfe Foundation: Toronto, 2007.

Short Term Recommendations for the Transition Policy

In order to set short term recommendations in motion to establish a policy acknowledging the successful transition from social assistance to a meaningful job, authorities of all social services need to come together to reduce overlap in policies that set up structural barriers to a successful transition into the job market out of social assistance. These authorities include social service providers such as Ontario Works, public housing, child care, and student aid. Short term recommendations need to start with supporting children in their transition into adulthood and continue with developing a short term solution for social service providers, including Ontario Works. These need to be in place to stabilize households in transition to greater self-reliance.

A significant factor that impacts the successful transition of not only recipients, but entire families off of Ontario Works is the failure of social service authorities to "support children in their transition into adulthood." Combined efforts of social assistance authorities helping children with a successful transition into adulthood includes the following steps: Public Housing and Ontario Works redefine adulthood and, under the new definition, children would not take on additional responsibilities or an adult status while successfully in school full time up until the age of 24, authorities providing social assistance provide a four year moratorium on rent increase, loss of OCB, and loss of student assistance. Moreover, the combined efforts of authorities of social services to work towards ensuring these short term goals are carried out should result in a real, tangible transition process for young adults to work with authorities to plan their own approval process, standards, and benchmarks.

There ARE significant short term measures that need to take place to stabilize families and households while they transition to “greater self-reliance." Authorities providing social services need to work with families to reduce punitive practices such as high tax claw backs on much needed additional income while on social assistance, improve asset assessment measures, and improve plans for the receipt of benefits while transitioning into the work force to ensure that the transition is adequately supported. In order to reduce these punitive practices, authorities providing social assistance need to grant one year renewable moratoriums on rent increases, OW reductions, losses in child care subsidies, and student assistance based on pre-approved plans for those adults who truly wish to attain greater self-sufficiency. Recipients should also have the option to renew this moratorium on a yearly basis if they move successfully towards pre-set benchmarks they have identified in all social assistance applications, including Ontario Works. Most importantly, there should be absolutely no punitive measures for those not successful in moving towards self-sufficiency should attempts to move in that direction be genuine (i.e. no retroactive charges). Authorities should also allow raised asset limits in accordance with an approved employment plan to ensure that recipients can accumulate some savings in order to better transition to self-sufficiency. All of these measures require authorities of social services to not only better coordinate their benefits plans, but to also work in cooperation and collaboration with individual families in order to establish plans that adequately address their needs and ensure a successful transition to self-sufficiency in the job market.

Recommendations for acknowledging the transition from workfare to work obtained from: “Why is it so Tough to Get Ahead? How Our Tangled Social Programs Pathologize the Transition to Self-Reliance.” John Stapleton, Metcalfe Foundation: Toronto, 2007.

Recommendations for a New Policy supporting the Transition from Workfare to Work

One of the most prominent shortcomings of workfare is the failure to acknowledge through policy and practice that clients will transition from social assistance to work. Although it is assumed under workfare policies reflective of the receipt of benefits, asset assessments, and job training that the plans in place are there to transition recipients from social assistance to participation in the job market, the transition that does occur is into low-paid labour, and in many cases a cycle between workfare and low-paid labour. Without a policy in place naming and guiding the transition from social assistance to participation in a competitive labour force, this transition will not take place.
What would this policy look like, what issues around transition need to be addressed, and where do we start? A policy addressing the transition to work would first ensure that the well-being of the social service recipient is met to ensure healthy participation in job-related activities. To address the well-being of the social service recipient, adequate benefits to cover rent, child care, basic necessities (including food, clothing, utilities, and travel) need to be in place. Punitive measures preventing recipients from successful transition into the work force also need to be removed. This includes the intrusive practice of monitoring assets. Recipients need to have allowance for at least a small percentage of savings per month from benefits in order to save for emergencies, and other factors that one needs to save for when transitioning between jobs. Claw back rates also need to be drastically re-assessed. The high claw back rates for individuals receiving another source of income for the sake of transitioning into a job keep them from being able to afford to transition into a new job successfully. Lowering the claw back rates will ensure a more successful transition, and remove the need to “punish” those trying to reap the benefits of both workfare and a paid job because successful transition into a meaningful job will be rewarding for the former social service recipient.
The new policy addressing the transition process should also give the client agency in planning their goals as a participant in the labour market. The client should receive adequate career counseling, and adequate job-related training at the post-secondary level, and in job placements. Doing so will ensure that the client will build the credentials needed to enter a competitive job market with the support of a healthy level of assistance. The client will then be significantly less likely to bounce back into social assistance.
How do we get there? Firstly, recommendations need to be made for short term solutions, including the support of children in their transition to adulthood, and stabilizing households in their transition to greater self-reliance. Recommendations for long-term solutions then need to come into effect, and these include the creation of a new government responsibility centre, questioning the “business model” of governance, “re-orienting Ontario Works to support transition, and publicly championing the road to self-reliance.” Finally, steps to working together with governments to “shape the solutions” need to be laid out so that they can be set in motion, and a new policy ensuring the successful transition into a competitive job market of former Ontario Works recipients can be formed. Professional recommendations will be considered from the report from the Metcalfe foundation on the pathologizing of the transition to self-reliance.
Recommendations for acknowledging the transition from workfare to work obtained from: “Why is it so Tough to Get Ahead? How Our Tangled Social Programs Pathologize the Transition to Self-Reliance.” John Stapleton, Metcalfe Foundation: Toronto, 2007.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pros and Cons of Proposed Methods of Removing Force

Our proposed alternative policy response seeks to improve job training and adequately assess (and, if necessary, develop) education levels in order to remove the feeling of force that Workfare participants feel to work. There are several pros to this proposed policy. Workers’ opinions are heard and valued in this alternative policy response, and this is a major advantage of our program because it empowers participants. So many Workfare participants were left feeling not only pressured or forced to work, but also powerless, helpless, unmotivated, and have even felt of little worth as individuals. Empowering workers by giving them the power to voice their opinions and having their voices heard, participants in our program would have the experience of essentially creating and participating in their own program recommendations. Of course, we hold power in the position of program develops as we are proposing the alternative policy response, but it is the participants who have the power to shape just how the program will help them. They know better than we do; they are in actual fact the “experts” in their own lives. Valuing and incorporating program participants’ opinions into the program is an effective way to get them interested in and excited about the program because they are direct contributors to it.

Continual evaluation and adaptation of the program to keep it fresh is definitely an advantage of our proposed alternative policy response. It is our intent that our policy satisfies the greatest number of people possible by allowing everyone a say in how the program is carried out. In reality, participants may hate the way the program runs, and by continually monitoring the progress and evaluating participant satisfaction, we would recognize these feelings and work to alleviate them. Just as policy makers must be willing to work with participants, participants must be willing to work with policy makers. If everyone gives a little and takes a little, it is likely to work. It is most definitely a “pro” to take part in regular program evaluation so that we can consistently work towards a successful social assistance program that works for individuals. This recognition and appreciation of individual differences is the premise of our plan because it will motivate participants in their daily lives. A large part of what causes Workfare participants to be unhappy, unmotivated, and resentful towards the system is the ignorance (by “experts” and employers) of their own unique situational issues that affect their ability to work. We have seen it. Research has shown it. If people’s differences are brushed aside and deemed insignificant, it has detrimental effects on their self-worth, and therefore their motivation in all aspects of life. We recognize that each person is different and has certain situations in their life that affect their ability to work. This is not a problem; it is what makes us human, and we wish to remove the feeling of force to work that Workfare participants experience by discussing these situations, bringing them to each other’s attention, and working with the situations to create a liveable work environment.

Although we can recognize the pros of our policy response, there are some cons or limitations to it as well. It is possible that some employers may not like the idea of having to share power with workers/participants in the program. We’ve all heard of those employers that are on a power trip. We can’t generalize this to all employers, obviously, but let’s face it—they do exist in some instances. If these individuals are required to share that power that they so covet and bask in, they may likely be resentful towards the policy. The program does not seek to take away power from employers, but it does seek to empower employees, and by evening out the playing field, employers may feel threatened that their power is being taken away. In addition, some individuals need to have structure in their lives. We are all different, and by respecting each other’s differences, we can respect that some people work and live best when their lives are rigidly structured. On the other hand, others may function best with a lack of structure. The incorporation of many different views can benefit participants by having each person’s voice heard, but it must be recognized that many (sometimes opposing) voices may result in higher rates of conflict. By integrating many perspectives the structure of the program may be compromised, and this can be unfavourable for those who require strict structure. Lastly, a limitation of our program execution is the possibility that participants will be unwilling to participate in the surveys we intend to use. The improvement of job training and the evaluation of program progress both require participant response in order to be most effective. If they are unwilling to respond, then this poses a dilemma to the program’s working. Lastly, attaining government enthusiasm and participation would likely be a lengthy and potentially frustrating process—it would be important to remind ourselves that we are in this for the long run and that it will take time and creativity to achieve our goals. Hard work will pay off.

Ways to address these cons follow. In order to deal with the potential issues of employer unwillingness to share power with employees, we would like to share with them the overall findings from the surveys that were completed in the implementation plan for improved job training and educational assessment. Participants in the program would take surveys to assess their individual needs and these surveys would be shared with employers to educate them on the program and the participants’ interests and needs. The attitude of being unwilling to share power with participants may likely stem from not understanding the premise of the program itself, and by educating employers on how the program would work, and showing them how different each individual’s needs and opinions are, they would be able to understand that power needs to be shared with participants in order to empower them and allow them to become self-motivated, quality employees. For the individuals who thrive on structure in their lives and suffer when that structure is abolished, meetings would need to discuss that this program does involve structure, but that it’s a different kind of structure. By reframing people’s concepts of what “structure” is, we could make them more open to a different kind of structure, the kind that our program would offer. It’s also important to note that once the program was running smoothly and any potential preliminary glitches were smoothed out, the program itself would, in fact, become more structured just as a result of regular practice and implementation. It would become the norm for participants and would therefore become routine. As for the reluctance to fill in surveys, we mentioned previously in the implementation plan for improved job training that policy briefs would be distributed along with surveys in order to educate and remind respondents of the benefits of the program. The benefits are focused on program participants, not the government, and therefore participants should recognize that they really can benefit from the program if they participate and provide feedback. They will be taking their lives into their own hands rather than letting someone else lead them, and this empowerment should encourage them to participate fully, so that they may reap the full benefits.

Involving participants directly in the program’s running is an innovative idea in social assistance policies because it shifts away from forcing people to work despite barriers to employment and shifts towards including people in how their job placements will run so that these employment barriers can be removed. The involvement of participants, employees, government workers, and policy makers has its pros and cons, as listed above, however we believe that the pros vastly outweigh the cons, and that empowerment of employees is what will make our proposed alternative policy response successful.

Monitoring and Evaluating the Removal of FORCE

Through the proposed plan of improving job training and adequately assessing and ensuring proper levels of education, we proposed that the “force to work” would be lifted off of workers’ shoulders and that they would become self-motivated to work. Workers would see that they are valued and are heard. This all sounds great, but in order to assess whether or not these measures are effective, we need to look at some ways in which we can monitor and evaluate the participants’ satisfaction levels with the program and, in turn, how well the program is working towards removing “force” and preparing workers sufficiently. The ways in which this could be performed are through the examination of felt, normative, expressed, and comparative needs; primary surveys; and informal and group techniques. These methods of needs assessment, evaluation, and process evaluation would provide us with a thorough understanding of how well our proposed alternative policy response regarding job training, education, and the removal of force was working in practice.

Felt needs, or the needs that the workers themselves expressed, would be assessed through collaborative discourse with employers and fellow employees. Normative needs, or the needs that are perceived by “experts” such as employers and policy-makers, and Expressed needs, or the needs identified by service agencies, are other important perspectives that contribute to participants’ attitudes towards working, and could also be assessed and explored through collaborative group discourse. All involved parties coming together to explain their own views and to understand others’ views would lead to an overall examination of these three types of needs. Group discussions that identify these needs would be conducted before and during the implementation of our policy response in order to get an accurate work-in-progress report. The generalization that is involved in Comparative needs is another important aspect necessary to explore because, as we have discussed in many previous posts, the generalization of Workfare participants or anyone for that matter is oppressive. Ignoring individual differences that occur from one person to the next oppresses people’s individuality and uniqueness and oppresses their very being. Comparative needs could be assessed by examining existing literature and statistics relating to Workfare programs and other social assistance programs in order to gain an understanding of how social assistance recipients have been generalized as a population in the past and present. Learning ways to overcome generalizations and value each worker’s specific situation and social location (by incorporating their own voices) would create an interesting and different perspective because it would let go of stereotypes and make way for new ways of perceiving and assisting social assistance recipients.

Primary surveys could assess the needs of workers on social assistance. Using random sampling from a large population of working social assistance recipients we could acquire a sufficiently varied sample to participate in our survey. These surveys would be qualitative and consist mainly of open-ended questions that would aim to attain the most detailed and subjective material from workers as possible. The subjectivity of each respondent’s survey is key because our approach is all about hearing each and every one of their individual voices. Primary surveys distributed to participants would broadly cover how well the program was working in terms of increasing participants’ levels of satisfaction on several scales, such as job satisfaction, living arrangement satisfaction, opportunities for growth and development satisfaction, and so on. These quantitative and numeric scales would be supported by qualitative questions that would require respondents to elaborate on the reasons for their levels of satisfaction, what could be done to increase those levels, and what is being done currently in the program that they feel is working well. Primary surveys would generate a lot of discussion from both participants and employers, just as improved job training methods would, and would therefore increase employer-employee coherence as well as increasing employer and employee satisfaction with the job and quality of work. Primary surveys would be distributed after approximately one year from the program’s commencement in order to give the program time to get started and to allow for people to get accustomed to the program. Distributing these surveys every other year would ensure that the program was meeting participants’ changing demands and needs and continually striving for relevance as things change.

Informal and group techniques are also very relevant in the evaluation of our program because it again focuses on qualitative information. Primary surveys are able to gather both qualitative and quantitative information, which is vital because quantitative data is especially useful for presenting findings and oftentimes quantitative data is more appealing to the general public. Informal and group techniques focus only on qualitative information and this appeals to us as program developers because the improved job training, proper educational assessment, and removal of force are carried out through qualitative techniques. What better way to assess qualitative techniques of program alteration than by evaluating them using qualitative assessments? The way we would carry out this aspect of program evaluation and monitoring is that we would bring in a social planner to work with the program participants directly from a “peer” perspective. The collaboration with a social planner is intended to minimize the level of discomfort that participants would have in discourse with an “expert”. This minimization of discomfort takes place through bringing the social planner to the same level as participants in order to promote a participatory approach to program development and maintenance. Through focus groups that participants would participate in on a voluntary basis, qualitative information would be gathered, recorded, and analyzed regarding ways that the program is working and ways in which it could improve. These findings would then be shared in employer forums that would keep employers participating in the program up to date with current data.

Although many ways to evaluate and monitor our program’s success could be applied, in the interest of space we will conclude this section here. The main point of this post is that in order to attain our goal of transitioning those on social assistance out of poverty we have identified objectives to help us reach our goal, as well as implementation plans for these objectives; the operation of these objectives must be evaluated in order to ensure that the program’s objectives are being met, are valuable to participants, and that the program is, in fact, successful in transitioning social assistance recipients out of poverty. In terms of improved job training, proper educational assessment, and the removal of force to work, we have proposed that primary surveys and informal and group techniques be used to carry out this evaluation. The identification and deconstruction of felt needs, normative needs, expressed needs, and comparative needs contributes to successful program evaluation as well because they help pinpoint the needs that the program should be addressing. The sharing of findings that arise from our evaluation would be shared publicly through public forums and perhaps through publication. It is important to include not only participants in the program but also to hear the voices of the general public as well, and by publicly examining the evaluation of our program these voices would be heard.

Implementing the Removal of The FORCE to Work

The implementation of improved job training, improved parameters around education levels, and the removal of the “force” that Workfare participants is a complex undertaking. Working from an anti-oppressive lens, it is evident that addressing these areas is crucial. By failing to prepare workers to handle the situations that they will come up with in their day-to-day work, failing to provide them with transferable skills, and ignoring their educational assets and areas that need development, Workfare creates a mentality in workers that they are being forced against their will to work. This development of a feeling of force itself produces unmotivated and resentful employees, regardless of their strengths and talents. This leads to poor quality of work, low worker morale, poor employer-employee relationships, and high “drop-out” rates among participants. By implementing an alternative policy response that values individuals’ opinions, thoughts, feelings, differences, talents, and uniqueness among many other things, we believe that the feeling of force would be eliminated. Our proposed policy would require that both participants and those implementing the program would be in agreement and collaboration regarding how the program would best benefit each worker. Actively involving workers in their own work experience would instil in participants a sense of belonging and self-worth because they would understand that their opinion really does matter. By feeling important in the process, workers would no longer feel forced to work but would rather be optimistic because they would recognize that they really would have a lot to gain from participation, now and in the future.

Now the question turns to, how would we put this plan into action? Firstly, surveys would be distributed to all social assistance recipients 18 years of age and over. These surveys would extract information regarding the interest that this population initially would express about these innovative additions to a basic Workfare model. Examples of questions that could be included in these surveys may sound something like: “Do you currently feel motivated to work?”, “What would some incentives to work be for your specific case?”, “If you were actively involved in the securing of your own current and future well-being through your workplace, how would you feel about working?”, and things of that nature. These questions would aim to get to the root feelings of those on social assistance in order to begin to understand how the system would need to be altered to accommodate their interests and circumstances. Through the answers acquired from the surveys, we would be able to share with employers the things that this population expressed as important and what would need to be offered for them in order to keep them motivated and able to maintain their jobs. Employers would then be more educated as to what social assistance recipients’ voices are saying and what their needs are, so that they would be able to apply this new knowledge to their workplaces and help their employees grow and develop in their work settings.

A second part of the implementation plan would involve assessing education levels of each and every worker prior to placing them in a workplace. Sources have documented that in some instances in a Workfare model, workers were not always assessed educationally. Their proficiency in English and/or other languages was not evaluated, nor were their basic math skills or literacy levels. As mentioned in an earlier post, without assessing both assets and areas that need development, workers cannot be placed in jobs and be expected that things will work out. A job may be too challenging or too easy, depending on the job and the individual’s own strengths. A job may also require verbal communication in a language that the worker is not proficient in. Similarly, other talents or skills may be required that the worker simply does not possess. Education levels must be evaluated in order to ensure that each individual worker is placed in a job that they can be successful at and perhaps even enjoy. Also, areas for improvement need to be identified before placing individuals in work situations. We propose that at the very least, a high school education be necessary for placing workers in placements. Ideally, a variety of jobs would be available that may require differing levels of education (i.e. post-secondary university- or college-level) so that individuals who possess high levels of education can benefit from this and use their skills in an effective and worthwhile manner; individuals with lower levels would be able to find suitable placements as well. Without a high school education, it is difficult to find a job that will pay an individual enough to stay above the poverty line and prosper. Therefore, by implementing the requirement of at least a high school level of education we are ensuring that at the very least, jobs will be able to minimally support their employees. It is recommended that workers seek higher education if possible, and we propose that at least some workplaces in which participants of the program are placed would assist in supporting these individuals financially. This would involve loans that could be paid back in instalments, including taking a small portion of each pay cheque to put towards the full amount.

After surveying social assistance recipients prior to work placements, and after adequately assessing (and, if necessary, developing) education levels, improving job training by providing high quality collaborative training would take place via the incorporation of the employers’ education surrounding social assistance recipients’ needs into the workplace. Not only would proper and thorough orientations takes place so that each employee would feel comfortable in his or her surroundings and feel comfortable with the job(s) that are to be carried out, but discussions would be regularly held which would continually appraise both employers’ and employees’ satisfaction levels. These discussion would be on-going throughout the employment placement so that the changing needs of all individuals involved would be at the forefront and that all could work together to create the best quality of work and the best opportunities. Job training that ensures employee comfort with the task at hand would be attended to in the beginning, which would be followed by providing each worker with the kind of transferable skills that would benefit them in the future. These skills include things such as time management skills, punctuality, professional attitude and appearance, how to write a proper resume and cover letter, reliability, accountability, and cooperation skills. The thing to remember is that in our alternative policy response, it is not in anyone’s interest to try to trap workers in their menial jobs. Although a job is a job in the beginning, no one is deserving of being trapped in these sorts of jobs for the entirety of their working lives. What’s important to focus on is the growth of individuals so that they will be able to acquire and keep good jobs that will enable them to not only escape the dependency on social assistance but also to stay above the poverty line and experience satisfaction with their lives. By providing good quality job training and consistent discussions surrounding maximizing job satisfaction for all involved parties, our policy would prepare individuals well for the future and for encounters in the “real world”.

Getting the government involved in our proposed policy response is critical to ensure the best chance that the program will run successfully. We would identify Members of Parliament that sit on committees related to issues surrounding our policy and would provide the Member(s) of Parliament with the information they need regarding our policy. Working with an MP could create a powerful ally for us and our policy initiative. It would also be important for us to monitor the committee’s activities, as well as getting involved ourselves in things like town meetings or events sponsored by our MP. We would also seek to create a relationship with a public servant so that our issue could be spread throughout government staff and we would have someone available to let us know who we should speak with regarding getting our policy approved and running. This being said, we would also recognize that regular government communication would be required to be maintained—not just while we’re trying to get our policy put into place, but in general. We would want to show an interest in government issues as a whole, not simply when we want to put our own policy into place. You never know when good relationships with government workers may come in handy, either for ourselves, for them, or both. A policy brief would be created and distributed to various government officials with the help of our MP and public servant allies with the intention of sparking interest in our policy. Copies of this policy brief would also be distributed to participants in the program upon survey completion discussed above as a part of the implementation plan. Again, involving those that the policy directly effects is essential for our program.

A lot has been covered in this posting, so let’s conclude with a short summary to refresh our memories of the key points in the implementation of better job training, educational assessment, and the removal of force. Basically, through the implementation of higher quality job training and ensuring proper assessment of education levels of each worker, the removal of the feeling of being “forced to work” is hypothesized to occur. A lot of workers who feel forced into jobs in order to receive social assistance are not effective workers and are not happy individuals. We propose to involve workers in their workplaces so that they can take their satisfaction into their own hands. This means collaborating directly with each other and employers in order to ensure that their needs are being heard and met. It also means being provided with sufficient job training to perform their current job well, as well as being provided with the skills to climb up the job ladder and hopefully receive more rewarding and meaningful work in the future. By ensuring an adequate level of education and encouraging higher education, we believe that better and more satisfying jobs will be available to workers in our alternative policy. It is part of our goal to provide workers with the tools they need to be able to become self-sufficient and independent, and by taking measures to remove force and encourage motivation, we theorize that individuals will be more partial to the idea of securing their futures and the futures of their families.

Removing the FORCE to Work Via Improved Job Training and Educational Assessment

We propose an alternative policy response to the policy of Workfare which would include improving job training, improving education, and removing the perceived force to work that Workfare participants experience. Improving job training is an important objective which relates to our overall goal of transitioning those on social assistance out of poverty because, as discussed in some previous posts, the job training that jobs offered to Workfare participants is inadequate for providing workers with worthwhile knowledge that they can apply to their current job and potential future jobs. Inadequate job training leaves Workfare participants trapped in their current jobs because they are not well enough prepared to attain employment elsewhere. Understandably, workfare participants may start at the bottom of the ladder, and a job in and of itself is an improvement from nothing at all, but in order to prepare social assistance recipients for life they need to be prepared for other types of jobs. Inadequate job training takes away workers’ rights to seeking challenging and rewarding employment. Low levels of education are also detrimental to workers’ well-being and personal growth. If a worker only has a grade 6-level education, this worker will be hard pressed to find an employment opportunity that will pay well, will include even minimal benefits, will be intellectually stimulating, or will provide opportunity for promotions. Workfare participants experience being forced to work. The entire idea of Workfare is that participants work in order to receive social assistance. Although some say that people who cannot or will not work need to be pushed into working, this view fails to recognize the individual differences that exist between people. The force that participants experience can be stressful and discouraging and can lead to even greater hardships in these individuals’ lives.

It is our recommendation that in this alternative response to Workfare, employers provide better job training to employees. This means that employers themselves need to be prepared to properly train their employees. How would this be carried out? Firstly, employers participating in this alternative program would attend a sort of class in which they would learn the best practices that train employees. Classes would be offered by a team of individuals which could include a representative from human resources development (i.e. government official), a representative from a community organization or community centre, and a member of the community. This team which includes an “expert”, a community collaborator, and a peer to the community, would provide a well-rounded approach to training techniques, as well as providing multiple perspectives so that a variety of voices would be heard. We cannot rely only on “experts” to determine the best approaches to job training. By listening to members of the community we have a better opportunity for learning what the demands are in terms of job training. Secondly, after becoming educated in this way, employers would present their learnings and their own style of application of this education to employees. A round-table discussion would enable employers and employees to be on the same page and come to an agreement on what is expected and what can be provided from and for both parties. Third, the actual implementation of the agreed-upon job training techniques is obviously key for this alternative job training to occur. Overall, our perspective on Workfare’s inadequate job training is an alternative response that entails a collaborative and participatory approach in which employers and employees work together to be in agreement upon what kind of job training employees will receive. Therefore, although exact details cannot be stated as to what precisely would be involved in this improved job training, it can be said that employees’ voices would have a main role in what would be involved.

We also recommend that education levels of each and every worker participating in the program are assessed. This includes evaluating their proficiency in English as well as other languages, evaluating their basic math skills, literacy, and their educational history. Too many Workfare participants have been placed with employers without having had their education assessed. This again is another trap for workers because their strengths that they bring to the job are ignored, and the aspects of their education that need to be developed are also overlooked. Being bilingual is an asset in many workplaces, but if this is not recognized then bilingual Workfare participants suffer from not being able to apply this asset in a workplace and potentially attain a better job. On the other hand, an individual with a low education level needs to develop their education so that he or she will not be trapped in menial labour for life. Rather than forcing them to work, a plan could be implemented to assist the under-educated individuals acquire at least a high school education, or higher, so that their future employment opportunities would be more plentiful and of better quality. Education assessment is necessary to ensure participants the best possible placements and also to identify which workers need to develop their education before working.

The feeling of being forced into work is something that can leave a worker bitter, resentful, and unmotivated to work. One view that exists is that mandatory Workfare participation will motivate welfare recipients and help them realize that they need to work; they will adopt the attitude that they can, want to, and need to work in order to receive social assistance. This has been shown to be inaccurate in many instances, as social assistance recipients’ individual situations are ignored and the assumption is made that they have nothing else to do. In fact, single parents, for example, have their hands more than full and to work is truly not feasible while simultaneously caring for young children. To put it another way, let’s try to imagine that a middle-class, white, heterosexual, single (with no children) female works an average of 40 hours per week at the job she has worked at and loved for six years. All of a sudden, she is told that in order to receive her normal pay cheques she will need to start working another job in the evening and on the weekends; otherwise, she will not receive her pay. Not only will her pay remain the same (so she won’t be paid extra for the second job that she takes on), her hard work for these six years seems to be completely irrelevant. Is this fair? Some of us would argue that this sounds ridiculous. Now let’s ask ourselves, is this different from a single woman in the same basic situation, except she has three children under the age of 2 years? She works all day every day, including evenings and weekends, supporting these children of hers. To top it off, she doesn’t get paid for this work that she does around the clock. How would she be able to be forced into working for welfare? She’d need to put her children in day care. Ok, but some reports claim that decent child care costs $1600 CAD a month. Many middle-class families with two parents working relatively well-paying jobs find this sum a difficult amount to come up with each month, let alone someone on welfare. This story provides an analogy of how that force that Workfare places upon participants is discouraging and unmotivating because it causes such a high level of stress that individuals are left feeling hopeless, helpless, and worthless. An alternative policy response would remove the force to work (ways of how to tackle this idea will be explored in a later blog posting) and instil a sense of worth in participants.

The ideas suggested above are ways that our alternative policy response to Workfare would aim to address the oppressive factors that exist in Workfare. We take a humanistic, collaborative, anti-oppressive stance that aims to involve participants in the process and focus on what’s important in each and every one of our lives. By concentrating on individual differences and development, our approach would create better incentives to work and would value each worker’s situation in relation to their abilities to work.

Recommendations for an Alternative Policy

Our policy alternative will be developed through an anti-oppressive lens in which attention will be directed towards the structural causes of poverty. Through this perspective we have addressed the differing needs of social assistance recipients that the initial Workfare policy did not take into account. We have argued that structural causes of poverty have been overlooked because of the overarching neo-conservative framework behind the implementation of Workfare. This neo-conservative framework individualizes the causes of poverty, and therefore creates a deviantization of the poor, placing the blame on individual qualities while removing the responsibility of the state. Our hope is to shift attention from individualization and draw it back to structural issues including that of the feminization of poverty, inequalities in wealth, barriers to employment. Our policy alternatives will account for these systemic issues by addressing the provision of child care, the development of meaningful education and job training as well as the development of a policy that acknowledges the transition from social assistance to a meaningful job of all workfare recipients.

The short term recommendations include providing those receiving social assistance with a 390/month/child childcare allowance that is not included in that individuals calculation of earnings. This will be provided regardless of working status, family member status, or provision of receipts and will be covered for a 1 year period, with the possibility of extension under extenuating circumstances. Long term recommendations include the beginnings of a national child care system in which federal funding will account for 80% of the cost of regulated child care services. By implementing these policy initiatives, the gendered nature of poverty, as well as the current child care expectations for women, will be taken into consideration, allowing women more freedom from the childcare role if they so choose. This policy will increase the quality of care for children living in low income situations, while positively affecting the labour force participation of women, allowing for a more livable balance of labour force and child care responsibilities.

In terms of job training and education, it is recommended that a humanistic perspective that focuses on individual differences is used to empower program participants. This can be accomplished through collaborative job training which includes regular focus group-styled meetings with employers and employees to address each worker's individual needs and issues. By incorporating each person's needs and opinion into job training, what needs to improve will become evident. This means that job training will look different to each individual person. To each person as he or she needs. Some aspects of improved job training will include things like resume and cover letter writing, professional behaviour and appearance, and punctuality and time management skills in order to help them prepare for future careers. Not only will this improve job training quality, it will also improve employer-employee relations and workplace morale. Education levels will be properly assessed as well. Strengths will be noted, and areas for development will be addressed. It will be required that participants have a minimum of high school level education with a recommendation for higher education. Plans will be set up to help interested participants pay for higher education by providing loans and deducting amounts from their pay cheques, if possible. Empowerment of individuals and encouragement for healthy growth and development will motivate individuals to enjoy their work and look forward to the future. These recommendations intend to remove the force that Workfare participants have felt to work and move towards instilling an internal motivation by helping individuals become successful employees.

The failure of Ontario Works to acknowledge the transition from social assistance to work will also be addressed with recommendations for policies and practices that actually support this process in contrast to the conservative lens that people on workfare are deviants who refuse to work, and that they will favourably comply with the program "reaping the benefits" of an immediate transformation into permanent, low paid labour. Developing a policy acknowledging the need for a meaningful transition plan within Ontario works requires both short and long term recommendations, and an action plan to change public opinion and obtain government support through client-centred, agency-guided focus groups. Short term recommendations in favour of policies acknowledging the transition between social assistance and work include reducing clawback rates for the majority of recipients who need to work not only for additional job experience, but because the benefits aren't adequate, remove punitive measures against those who do not meet pre-set goals despite genuine efforts to attain them, and to develop individual schedules for each client on their own directed path to success. Long term recommendations in favour of policies acknowledging the transition between social assistance and work include developing a new government responsibility centre where authorities of social services work to establish identical definitions for defining criteria for clients to reduce overlap that creates barriers for clients on Ontario Works that are in need of more than one form of assistance, and raising asset levels to allow recipients of Ontario Works to save money month to month to cover expenses incurred when looking for a job, and facing lapses between jobs that occur due to no fault of their own (i.e. company lay-offs). The action plan to change public opinion and obtain government support of recommendations requires client-centred, agency-guided focus groups to identify short and long term changes, re-frame the public conservative ideology with language changing the deviantizing "welfare cheat" lens to an anti-oppressive "achieving self sufficiency" lens. Government action to set forth policies in Ontario Works that acknowledges the transition from social assistance to work takes place with buy in from finance ministers and the Premier of the publicly championed anti-oppressive lens of recipients of social assistance thanks to the efforts of the client-agency focus groups.

The workfare program has a multitude of issues associated with its implementation. The impact the policy has had on health is significant, as it means those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have much more working against them if they are going to be successful in the program. However, health related issues as well as others are being explored and challenged by several grass-roots organizations so that workfare policies are changed in ways that are beneficial to all. While taking these factors into account, it must be remembered that there are a number of opinions which mark a sharp digression from the belief that workfare is “a violation of human rights” or that it’s not fair. Provincial taxpayers are the ones that contribute a great deal into welfare, and thus, the workfare program, so in understanding this perspective it becomes readily visible why many would think there should be a “workfare level of responsibility.” Many feel that people should be required to work for their financial assistance so that the recipients can be integrated back into the workforce. Again, this is only a single opinion, and it doesn’t take into account all the complex issues associated with the policy (disability, access to childcare). What it DOES is highlight the need for a program where resources such as childcare, counseling and skill upgrading are given to the workfare recipient so that there is a much higher probability of successful re-integration into the workforce.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Impact of Workfare on Health: Part Two

We've examined many different ways that Workfare has impacted society: the impact on managers, the impact on workfare recipients, and also the impact on single mothers. Health care is crucial to the well-being of our society, and it has many different facets: psychological, emotional, as well as physical. If we're not psychologically or physically healthy, we're not going to be able to provide for ourselves or our families the basic necessities of life, right? Ask someone who is addicted to heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. How do they earn a living so that they have income for food, water, shelter, and clothing? Mitigating this reality is the unfortunate case of the provincial government designing and implementing (in 1997) the Ontario Disability Support Program. It excluded "persons with dependencies on drugs or alcohol from eligibility for benefits unless they could prove they had some other substantial physical or mental impairment." What seems particularly troubling is the idea that because HIV is included in the Ontario government's definition of "disability," it may serve as an incentive for some to "become positive" so as to qualify for benefits. What does everyone think of this idea? I'm not sure what to think of it. Maybe the research on this idea is unreliable, and desperately needing...well, more! It just seems like a dramatic statement, too dramatic almost.

If someone doesn't qualify for O.D.S.P., his or her only recourse is to apply for Ontario Works which has a participation requirement. The fact that a person addicted to drugs or alcohol can claim that he or she is in a rehabilitation program, voluntarily, as part of the requirement, seems like a worthy option. The factor to remember is that many of these substance abuse programs are "abstinence based," and so if the said person fails to meet his or her responsibilities in the program, participation in Workfare will be required. Thus, it seems like a vicious circle, as anyone who works in additions and/or mental health can attest to the fact that substance use is an every day, all day problem. It's pervasive and all-consuming. What good is a person going to be in a workfare program if he or she is high while on the job? How will that affect the integrity of the workplace, the ability of the manager to control the surroundings and therefore an efficient company? What's even worse is the fact that if a person THEN fails to meet the requirements of their workfare involvement, they will be ineligible for a period of three to six months.

Definitely scary for a person who is trying to cope without the use of drugs. Especially when the length of stay in recovery programs is reduced from 28 to 21 days, albeit a way for a the province to allow more people into the program.

It's a tough situation, because while it's quite easy to make the provincial government out to be the bad guy, it cannot be denied that there are a number of factors to keep in mind. The provincial government is under pressure from "the people" to help those who are financially struggling. The government is also under pressure by the people to keep the streets safe for healthy citizens to be on. Thus, it is going to be imperative that the government devise programs where people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol can get help (thus reducing the chance that he or she will drink and drive, or exchange drugs on the streets). However, it's even more complicated because how does the government get the funding needed to operate programs such as workfare? That's right, the taxpayers!!!

It's obvious: the workfare program was a colossal disaster. The government employees did not take into account the impact that would happen on mothers, on employers, and on the health and well-being of all financially struggling individuals. However, it's important to remember that despite a possibly oppressive mindset of the policy makers (possibly is an important word to use because we don't exactly know what their beliefs are), there's only so much anyone can do. An organism is only as good as the sum of it's parts, and the various aspects of the program that make it ineffective (such as the ones we've outlined in this blog) reinforce the idea that it was just a poorly thought out policy.

The Impact of Workfare on Health: Part One

What elements would you say are our most basic determinants of good health? Food? Water? Shelter? Clothing? Feeling valued? I would wager a guess that the answer to that question would equate to an age old cliche: "all of the above." Nevertheless, these factors most certainly equalize our ability to live our lives free from physical duress. But who helps who IN TIMES of duress? What if the members of a family can't support each other, and therefore cannot provide the aforementioned factors? Who will step in to provide assistance? In a fair and just society, one would think the people that run the show, a.k.a., those in government. But like we've said before, if the government DOES step in, it doesn't mean the answer is going to be a good one. Sometimes the response is poorly implemented. With regard to our health and well-being, what do you think Workfare says about the belief systems of those who implemented it? What does it say about their ideology? Perhaps that our governments (not all) are kind of "socialist," in nature. What this means is the idea that: "Don't worry, we'll take care of you because you'll use our ideas. You give us your trust and your earnings and we'll take care of you." Maybe workfare says that our leaders feel we should be able to take care of our own health, regardless of our circumstances ~ forgetting that our health is contingent on being able to support ourselves with the basic necessities of life.

In the past 20 years, a lot of people have railed against the changes that have been made to our policies regarding financial assistance. These policies undoubtedly affect our health and well-being. We've got the "Marginalized Worker's Action League," an organization of unemployed individuals, "marginally employed" workers and students who came together in 1997 to pressure our government institutions to initiate fairer assistance programs (ones that steer far away from the "blame the victim" mantra ~ I realize the irony in using another cliche). Then we've got the "Society for the Promotion of Human rights in Employment," which also came together in 1997 and focuses on promoting "awareness, understanding and respect for our fundamental human rights (one of which is the prohibition of forced labour)." These are crucial steps toward standing up and saying: "Wait a minute, these programs aren't right, they are not working. We need a better way!" It seems like getting the people involved who desperately need financial assistance in the policy development would be a worthwhile option. The heads of two groups are better than one, right?

The "Ontario Public Health Association," or OPHA, as it is commonly referred to as, strives to promote the social and physical wellness of everyone in the province. As such, it pays special attention to the policies that our government leaders implement and advocates for change. Some of the recommendations it has made in the past include: voluntary participation in workfare programs, appropriate training and job placements, as well as the access to government-funded support services (which would include but is not limited to transportation and adequate childcare services). One thing that OPHA has tried to point out in their literature is that typically, social assistance has been provided through two avenues: general welfare assistance and family benefits (this would mean individuals with dependent children). When the province of Ontario elected the conservative government in 1995, it reduced social assistance benefits by 21 per cent. What came after was Ontario Works, a mandatory workfare program for those receiving social assistance.

What the heck is the message with all this rambling? It's simple: the writing is on the wall. Yes, it's true, yet another cliche. The point is that the impact left by workfare has been felt and felt big time. An area of our lives impacted hugely by this policy is the health and well-being of the citizens who have used it. A number of grass roots organizations are continuing to fight the inequalities that exist in these ways. So it's there, the work is being done to try and equalize the financial assistance that is allotted to Canadian citizens. However, one key factor that needs to be kept in mind is that while there are innumerable people who desperately need adequate assistance in getting back on their feet, there is also a "population" of people in our country who remain, and will always remain, "unemployable." Managers speak to this fact all the time; companies have tried to participate in no avail. Not in every single case, but many where an employee was chronically late, sick, or refused to show up. It certainly makes things harder on the people who need "something" to get them back to a place where they can manage their lives independently.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Disincentives to Employment: Unreasonably Low Asset Levels

Unreasonably low asset levels are a problematic deterrent for Ontario Works recipients who want to pursue employment. Ontario Works sets maximum asset levels for recipients to determine how much monthly allowance they are to receive. For example, single adults are afforded a maximum asset level of $560 per month, while single adults with a lone child are afforded a maximum asset level of $1529 per month. These asset levels are set and adjusted by proof of necessities obtained from recipient’s receipts and include: pay stubs, hydro, water, and heating costs, bank account books and statements, fire insurance, rent or mortgage payments, income tax assessment or returns, and child care costs.

While monthly allowances are set to ensure that a recipient’s basic and immediate needs are covered, they do not allow any room for savings—an asset that Ontario Works recipients need if they are to successfully transition from social assistance to a job. Although existing asset levels cover current consumption, it is not enough, as there are a number of additional costs that a person has to take into account when transitioning into a job. These costs include the costs of a new wardrobe for the interview, transportation to interviews, additional child care for parents going through job interviews and an increase in phone costs to set up interviews. Without room for savings in the maximum assets level, Ontario Works recipients are afforded no assistance to assist with finding a job—a process that does cost money.

Ontario Works fails to recognize the instability of the transition that occurs when a person begins a new job. For example there is always a probationary period typically lasting 3 to 6 months whereby, should the job be terminated, the recently fired employee would need to fall back on a few months of savings while pursuing a new job. Also, since Ontario Works prepares recipients for low-skilled, low-paid labour only, these jobs are typically contract positions that could be terminated at any time at no fault of the employee. If there is not adequate savings in place before going into a new job, a person has no resources to fall back on should their job be terminated. Since Ontario works does not allow savings to be an asset, then individuals transitioning out of Ontario Works are afforded no opportunities to buffer transitional periods out of social assistance and between jobs with adequate resources.

What’s most oppressive about this predicament is that Ontario Works covers a recipient’s immediate consumption needs only. By not allowing for even a small fraction of the assets to include savings, recipients do not have the opportunity to participate in the work force ever the same way that individuals in the middle and upper class do. Since they are required to save and present receipts of all spending, including rent, utilities, food, clothing, and child care (a further oppressive and exploitative practice by Ontario Works), then recipients don’t have the option to even cut back on their basic necessities for the sake of savings, because cutting back on their spending would lower their allowance. What this means for Ontario Works recipients is that, while they have a greater incentive to work, they have a reduced incentive to save. This results in “a vow of poverty to maintain their eligibility for OW—which is surely counter-productive to the ultimate goal of reducing their reliance on welfare.”

Information about Ontario Works asset levels obtained from:

Region of Peel, Ontario Works in Peel: Your Responsibilities

Simcoe County Health and Social Services Home Page: Ontario Works Asset Levels

TD Economics Special Report: "From Welfare to Work in Ontario: Still the Road Less Travelled." September 8, 2005.

Disincentives to Employment: Facing the Glass Ceiling

Another barrier to employment for recipients of Ontario Works who are eager to enter the job market is the glass ceiling. Since individuals who enter Ontario Works are individuals who have proven immediate financial need, they are already oppressed as citizens in poverty. While the intention of Ontario Works is to provide training for jobs that will help recipients exit social assistance and support themselves with an income, Ontario Works fails to do so because the training and job opportunities provided are so poor that they provide recipients with basic skills that will only give them jobs that keep them in a very low income bracket, or below the poverty line.

Examples of the “job specific” training provided can be found on the Ontario Works section of the city of Kingston homepage. Education and job-specific skills for upgrading include:

Completing your Grade 12 diploma or equivalency;
Improving language skills;
Upgrading reading, math, and writing skills;
Training required for certain jobs such as basic computer skills, typing, forklift operations, personal support worker (PSW).
Furthermore, upon a search of the upcoming job-specific skills workshops, one will find that the only recent workshop offered is standard CPR/First Aid training. What does this mean for Ontario Works recipients who have dreams of learning job-specific skills to start a career when they leave social assistance? This means that they cannot do so because Ontario Works does not provide the skills and training at a post-secondary level of education that is required for one to learn the skills to pursue meaningful employment. Ontario Works recipients are provided education up to grade 12 only, which does nothing for recipients who were already in poverty because they could not afford a post-secondary education even though they were already high school graduates. While basic academic skills such as language, reading, math, and writing are required for all jobs, failure to advance beyond these skills towards training in jobs that require higher order thinking and problem solving oppresses recipients to be eligible only for the lowest paying jobs once they leave Ontario Works. Since Ontario works does not provide training at the post-secondary level, barely pays out enough for one’s own living expenses, and prepares recipients for jobs whereby they are not paid enough to even save for a post-secondary education, it traps recipients below the glass ceiling when they attempt to leave the program and apply for a job.

In a survey of former Ontario Works recipients in the city of Toronto , comparisons were made between their financial situation while on, and off Ontario Works. The average weekly rate of pay for Ontario Works recipients who had transitioned into the job market was $400, which was 30% below the average weekly rate of pay for employees in the city of Toronto . When reporting incomes, 92% of respondents reported and average income below Statistic’s Canada ’s 2001 Low income cut-off. When reflecting on job-related training, recipients had opportunities to work and receive education in the following fields: retail/sales, office worker, restaurant worker, trades worker/mechanic, with 15% identified as an obscure category of professional/manager. Clearly, Ontario Works participants are limited to basic employment training and are not afforded training in higher paying jobs that call for knowledge in fields of academia.

Following input from former Ontario Work’s recipients, the reality behind the intended advantages of the program, for recipients to leave social services and sustain their living expenses with employment is clear. The program is failing. Without meaningful post-secondary level training, and opportunities to enter jobs paying above the low-income cut-off, former recipients are trapped in low-pay work where they have no access to benefits, and no opportunities to save for an education to help them climb the career ladder. They are oppressed to find work only in low-paying jobs, whether as employees or as returnees to Ontario Works, and are unlikely to ever break through the glass ceiling in search of a meaningful, sustaining career.

Information about Ontario Works training found on the Ontario Works Section of the City of Kingston home page.

Information from former Ontario Works recipients found in: “After Ontario Works: A survey of people who left Ontario Works in Toronto in 2001.” Toronto Community & Neighbourhood Services, 2001.