Welfare system ineffective, study concludes
Poorest people in B.C. left scrambling to survive, move out of poverty

Frances Bula
Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Homeless people sheltering on the sidewalk of Cordova Street.
CREDIT: Ian Lindsay/Vancouver Sun
Homeless people sheltering on the sidewalk of Cordova Street.

VANCOUVER - B.C.'s welfare system does not help people at the bottom end move out of poverty, according to an intensive two-year study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Instead, it mires people with few skills and often persistent health or addiction problems in a cycle of scrambling to survive, with little offered to them in the way of real employment or lifeskills training.

And it also contributes to the province's homelessness problem.

Forty-five long-term welfare users who had been deemed "expected to work" by B.C.'s employment ministry were tracked for two years between 2004 and 2006. Half were still on welfare by the end, surviving by using foodbanks, resorting to prostitution, and occasionally going through periods of homelessness.

Only four people in the group got jobs that paid them more than poverty-level wages. Seven people in the group were cut off welfare at various points, some because they were homeless. Four who had been cut off and not reinstated by the end of the study were forced into homelessness.

"It's all so stupid and pointless. None of these people are being served by being cut off nor is society served," said Seth Klein, the B.C. director of the centre, who wrote the society with SFU sociology professor Jane Pulkingham.

The report notes that in 2006, 490 people were kicked off welfare for not abiding by their "employment plans."

The report recommends raising welfare rates, moving more quickly to reassess people as disabled if that's appropriate, cut-off regulations should be reconsidered, and more substantial training and supports should be provided.