150+ Canadians Day 47: Social Assistance

Social Assistance contributes to peace by being a support to reduce the impact of poverty for many Canadians. #Canada150

In Canada, social assistance programs include services provided by all levels of government, including: health care; education; housing; unemployment insurance; income supplements; and supports for the disabled and seniors.

Before the Great Depression, most social services were provided by religious charities and other private groups. Changing government policy between the 1930s and 1960s saw the emergence of a welfare state. Most programs from that era are still in use, although many were scaled back during the 1990s as government priorities shifted towards reducing debt and deficit.

All provinces in Canada provide universal, publicly funded healthcare for those services which are considered “medically necessary”, with their costs partially subsidized by the federal government. Services which are not “listed” (covered by a provincial insurance plan), or have been “delisted” (removed from the plan) may be purchased privately.

In Canada, provinces and territories are responsible for their elementary and secondary schools. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in most provinces, 17 and 18 in others. Both elementary and secondary education is provided at a nominal cost. Post-secondary schooling is not free, but is subsidized by the federal and provincial governments. Financial assistance is available through student loans and bursaries.

All provinces maintain income support programs.  The purpose of these programs is to alleviate extreme poverty by providing a monthly payment to people with little or no income. The rules for eligibility and the amount given vary widely between the provinces.  The resulting disparities and short-falls have led to a widening call for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG).

The basic income idea is to ensure everyone sufficient income to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status. In reality, in pilots and in current programs, it can take different forms. In recent months, Canadian political parties have adopted resolutions supporting basic income, prominent mayors have declared leadership on the issue, municipal governments have endorsed it, the government of Quebec has declared its intent to move in the direction of a basic income and the Ontario government announced it is planning a pilot. The federal government appointed a minister who has written on the subject and is now charged with developing a poverty reduction strategy. The federal government is also promising evidence-based policy and greater cooperation with other orders of government, a big change from the politics of the last decade.

Interested in working to improve social assistance in Canada? We recommend the Basic Income Canada Network.

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