Canada has released a study on people who leave welfare that
contrasts with the story spun by BC's Minister of Human Resources,
Murry Coell. "Life After Welfare: The Economic Well Being
of Welfare Leavers in Canada during the 1990s" by Marc
Frenette and Garnett Picot (http://www.statcan.ca/english/research/11F0019MIE/11F0019MIE2003192.pdf)
provides some fascinating contrasts with Coell's characterization
of the 90s and with what are passing as welfare exit surveys
in his ministry.
legislature's question period, Opposition Leader Joy MacPhail
has been demanding that Coell account for his "review"
of 19,000 people in receipt of disability benefits. Coell
refused to say how many people he expected to have their
benefits reduced, even though MacPhail produced a ministry
document that said "The ministry expects that about
9,130 disability 2 clients - 20 percent of the caseload
- will not meet the new criteria." Rather than answering
simple questions, Coell turned his answers into an attack
on the former government. On March 13th he said "In
1991, when unemployment rates were going down, what happened
to the caseload for people who were on temporary assistance?
It doubled." The data shows that the Minister doesn't
have his facts straight.
study released by Statistics Canada shows (Appendix table
3) that for men between ages 25 and 54 the unemployment
rate increased in BC from 7.6% in 1990 to 9.5% in 1991,
dropping to 9.3% in 1992. The early nineties showed similar
bad economic results for the rest of Canada. For all of
Canada, the unemployment rate for men of those ages increased
from 7.2% in 1990 to 9.5% in 1991, and to 10.7% in 1992.
Coell's recollection of the economic times inherited by
the Harcourt government bears no relation to the facts.
account of what was happening to welfare roles in the 90s
is also out of sync with the facts. The study released by
Statistics Canada (Appendix table 1) shows that for all
of Canada, the proportion of the population on welfare in
1991 was 8.2%. The proportion rose to 10.7% in 1994 before
beginning to slowly decline. In British Columbia, the proportion
of the population on welfare was lower than the Canadian
average for every year shown in the study. In 1991 the BC
proportion was 7.3%. It peaked at 10.0% in 1995 (one year
after the peak for Canada) before gradually declining.
Ministry has been conducting "welfare
exit surveys" for the apparent purpose of justifying
harsh changes. The surveys certainly do not qualify as good
research since the number of people with phones not in service
exceeds the number of people surveyed. No effort is made
to find out what actually happened to the people who left
welfare in BC. Are they living with and supported by family
and friends? Have they moved out of the province? Are they
on the street? Coell would have people believe that 67%
of those who left assistance did so for employment, and
those who found a job have 2.9 times the amount of money
they received on income assistance. It is very difficult
to reconcile that claim with the results of the "Life
After Welfare" study.
"study" tabulated results from a low response
telephone survey of people who have been off of assistance
for six months. Frenette and Picot's study used the Longitudinal
Administrative Database (LAD) which is a 20% sample
of taxfilers for the years 1982 to 2000 derived from the
annual tax file provided by the Canada Customs and Revenue
Agency. Their study didn't lose anyone. It tracked people
who reported 80% of their income in one year as being from
welfare and looked at their family income two years later.
The study provides breakdowns of results by province. Frenette
and Picot analyzed family incomes of 28,840 people who had
left welfare. They ranked into deciles (ten equal parts)
the families by how much they had improved their income.
The top decile showed the kind of results reported by Coell's
ministry, but after that the improvements in family income
quickly dropped off. The bottom four deciles had lower family
incomes than when they were on welfare! The study found
that over five years following exit from welfare, 52% had
returned to the welfare system at some point. The authors
noted that this is consistent with American experience.
The study looked at the one third of welfare leavers who
experienced declines in income when they left the welfare
system and attempted to answer why that happened. No satisfactory
conclusions were reached.
service plan for the Ministry of Human Resources says "The
Ministry of Human Resources envisions a province in which
those British Columbians in need are assisted to achieve
their social and economic potential." Some believe
that the Ministry's vision is to kick enough people off
welfare so as to fund the tax cuts. If the Campbell government
is serious about helping people in need achieve their social
and economic potential, it should do the kind of serious
research recently published by Statistics Canada and find
out what is really happening to those who leave welfare.