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Societys Restraint To Social Reform (1726 words)

Society’s Restraint to Social ReformSociety’s Restraint to Social Reform
Of the many chatted words in the social reform vocabulary of Canadians
today, the term workfare seems to stimulate much debate and emotion. Along
with the notions of self-sufficiency, employability enhancement, and work
disincentives, it is the concept of workfare that causes the most tension
between it’s government and business supporters and it’s anti-poverty and
social justice critics. In actuality, workfare is a contraction of the
concept of “working for welfare” which basically refers to the requirement
that recipients perform unpaid work as a condition of receiving social

Recent debates on the subject of welfare are far from unique. They are
all simply contemporary attempts to decide if we live in a just society
or not. This debate has been a major concern throughout history. Similarly,
the provision of financial assistance to the able-bodied working-age poor
has always been controversial.

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On one side are those who articulate the feelings and views of the poor,
namely, the Permissive Position, who see them as victims of our society
and deserving of community support. The problems of the poor range from
personal (abandonment or death of the family income earner) to the social
(racial prejudice in the job market) and economic (collapse in the market
demand for their often limited skills due to an economic recession or shift
in technology). The Permissive View reveals that all participants in society
are deserving of the unconditional legal right to social security without
any relation to the individual’s behaviour. It is believed that any society
which can afford to supply the basic needs of life to every individual
of that society but does not, can be accused of imposing life-long deprivation
or death to those needy individuals. The reason for the needy individual
being in that situation, whether they are willing to work, or their actions
while receiving support have almost no weight in their ability to acquire
this welfare support. This view is presently not withheld in society, for
if it was, the stereotype of the ‘Typical Welfare Recipient’ would be unheard

On the other side, the Individualists believe that generous aid to the
poor is a poisoned chalice that encourages the poor to pursue a life of
poverty opposing their own long-term interests as well of those of society
in general. Here, high values are placed on personal choice. Each participant
in society is a responsible individual who is able to make his own decisions
in order to manipulate the progression of his own life. In conjunction
with this opinion, if you are given the freedom to make these decisions,
then surely you must accept the consequences of those decisions. An individual
must also work part of his time for others (by means of government taxing
on earned income). Those in society who support potential welfare recipients
do not give out of charity, but contrastingly are forced to do it when
told by the Government. Each person in society contains ownership of their
own body and labour. Therefore anything earned by this body and labour
in our Free Market System is deserved entirely by that individual. Any
means of deducting from these earnings to support others is equivalent
to criminal activity. Potential welfare recipients should only be supported
by voluntary funding. For this side, welfare ultimately endangers society
by weakening two of it’s moral foundations: that able-bodied adults should
be engaged in some combination of working, learning and child rearing;
and secondly, that both parents should assume all applicable responsibilities
of raising their children.(5)
In combination of the two previous views, the Puritan View basically
involves the idea that within a society which has the ability to sufficiently
support all of it’s individuals, all participants in the society should
have the legal right to Government supplied welfare benefits. However,
the individual’s initiative to work is held strongly to this right. Potential
welfare recipients are classified as a responsibility of the Government.

The resources required to support the needy are taken by means of taxation
from the earnings of the working public. This generates an obligation to
work. Hence, if an individual does not make the sacrifice of his time and
energy to contribute their earnings to this fund, they are not entitled
to acquire any part of it when in need unless a justifiable reason such
as disability is present for the individual’s inability to work. The right
to acquire welfare funds is highly conditional on how an individual accounts
for his failure in working toward his life’s progression by his own efforts.

Two strong beliefs of the Puritan Position are; Firstly, those on welfare
should definitely not receive a higher income than the working poor, and
secondly, incentives for welfare recipients to work must be evident.

The distinction between the “deserving” and “non-deserving” poor is
as evident now as it was in the Poor Laws of the 16th and 17th centuries.(1)
The former were the elderly, the disabled, the sick, single mothers and
dependent children, all of whom were unable to meet their needs by participating
in the labour force and, therefore, were considered worthy of receiving
assistance. The latter were able-bodied adults who were often forced to
do some kind of work as a condition of obtaining relief as a means of subsistence.

Those who refused this work requirement were presumably not really in need.

Throughout our own history of public assistance, the non-deserving poor
always got harsher treatment and fewer benefits than their deserving counterparts.

Due to it’s mandatory nature, historically, workfare has been viewed
as a forceful measure. Two other program strategies are now in use as well.

Namely, a service strategy, and a financial strategy.(8) The former includes
support services for the work participant, such as counselling, child care,
and training. The latter includes a higher rate of benefits for those who
participate in work programs than someone would receive from social assistance

To actually show that workfare does not work, we must observe the United
States, which has had federally mandated workfare programs for welfare
recipients since 1967. Although the research on American workfare programs
is inconclusive to some extent, many findings suggest that workfare is
ineffective in reducing welfare costs and moving people from the welfare
rolls into adequate employment. It was found that low-cost programs with
few support services and a focus on immediate job placements had extremely
limited effects. These did not produce sizable savings or reduce poverty
or reduce large numbers of people from welfare.(9) Furthermore, While expensive
programs with extensive supports and services were more likely to place
people in employment, there was a definite point of diminishing returns
where the expenses outweighed the benefits.(10)
Even the limited success by some American workfare programs is highly
questionable. Largely missing from the research is the discussion of workfare’s
major limitation: The lack of available adequate jobs. In the wide scheme
of things, it doesn’t matter whether the program is mandatory with no frills
or voluntary and comprehensive if there are no jobs to fill. This is the
“Achilles Heel” of all workfare programs. Even if some individuals manage
to find jobs and get off welfare, if the unemployment rate for the area
does not change, it is obvious that there has already been a displacement
of some people in the workforce. What actually occurs is a shuffling of
some people into the workforce and some out, with no net increase in the
number of jobs. Workfare only increases the competition for jobs, it doesn’t
create them (except for those who manage and deliver the programs, generally
not welfare recipients). In addition, the few jobs that workfare participants
do get tend to be either temporary, so the person returns to welfare, or
low-paying with minimal benefits, so that people are not moved out of poverty,
but merely from the category of “non-working poor” to “working poor”.(11)
Another issue largely ignored in Canada as well are health and safety
conditions affecting workfare participants. For example, in New Brunswick
an unusually high accident rate has been reported among welfare recipients
who took part in provincial work programs.

Given the overall failure of workfare programs to reduce welfare expenditures,
reduce poverty, and move people into adequate and permanent jobs, workfare
should not even be discussed as a viable social reform option today. Politicians
and the business establishment only call for workfare because it helps
to protect their privileged positions in our society. Workfare serves to
preserve the status quo by:
i. creating the illusion that politicians are actually doing something
meaningful about the deficit and welfare.

ii. increasing the reserve pool of available labour which can be called
upon at any time to carry out society’s dangerous and menial jobs.

iii. increasing the competition for scarce jobs, which tends to keep
wages down and profits up.

iv. reinforcing the attitude that people on welfare are largely responsible
for our economic and social ills, that they are lazy, deviants who will
not work unless forced to do so.

Workfare creates the assumption that unemployment is caused by personal
choice or lack of work ethic. However, due to the fact that we have well
over one million people in Canada actively looking for work, this is a
ridiculous assumption. Fifteen thousand people lined up one day in Oshawa
in January to apply for one of a few hundred possible jobs at General Motors.

The problem is not one of a lost worth ethic or personal pathology.

The problem is a lack of jobs, and workfare undoubtedly does nothing to
compensate or eliminate this problem.

1. deSchweinitz, Karl. ENGLAND’S ROAD TO SOCIAL SECURITY (New York:
A.S. Barnes & Co., 1943)
2. Irving, Allan. “From no poor law to the social assistance review:
a history of social assistance in Ontario, 1791-1987″ (Toronto: Social
Assistance Review Committee, Research Document 44,1987)
PLAN (Toronto: Ontario Economic Council, 1983)
4. Lightman, Ernie S. “Work Incentives Across Canada”, JOURNAL OF CANADIAN
STUDIES, 26 (1), 1991
5. Evans, Patricia. “From workfare to the social contract: implications
for Canada of recent U.S. welfare reforms”, CANADIAN PUBLIC POLICY, xix,1
(1993): 54-67. Also: Hardina, Donna. ” Targeting Women For Participation
in Work Programs: Lessons From the U.S.”, CANADIAN REVIEW OF SOCIAL POLICY,
33 (1994): 1-20
6. Hess, M. “Traditional Workfare: pros and cons” (Toronto: Ontario
Social Assistance Review Committee, Research Document 21, April 1987)
7. Johnson, Hubert. “Welfare work Will Go Ahead Despite Snubs,” CALGARY
HERALD, 6 January 1983
8. Lightman, 1991. Also: Rein, Martin. INCENTIVES AND PLANNING IN SOCIAL
POLICY (Chicago: Adeline, 1983)
9. Evans,1993
REFORM IN AMERICA (Newbury Park, California: Russell Sage Foundation, 1991)
13.Govier, Trudy. THE RIGHT TO EAT AND THE DUTY TO WORK. Philosophy
of the Social Sciences, vol. 5 (1975). (Wilfred Laurier University Press,1975)


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