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.