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Welfare in Saskatchewan: A Critical Evaluation

Type: Research Studies
Date Published: January 16, 2003
Research Topics:
Poverty & Welfare
The provision of welfare and related services is one of the most sensitive activities government undertakes. Welfare recipients often face difficult situations involving serious problems-job loss, disability, marital breakdown-and they need assistance to tide them over for a short period of time until they are self-sufficient again. In many instances, individuals and families return to independence after a short duration on welfare. To extend assistance beyond this point may seem easier and more compassionate in the short-term, but it is detrimental in the long run. Those providing welfare and related services must ensure that those in need of assistance get it in a timely and supportive manner while ensuring that the system does not become a permanent source of support. This is a difficult and trying balance at the best of times.

This study is broadly divided into three sections. The first deals with welfare and welfare reform in Canada. Specifically, this section provides an overview of the provision of welfare in Canada and how federal changes enacted in 1996 permitted greater flexibility in providing welfare by the provinces. It also summarizes recent reforms in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. The second section documents welfare provision in Saskatchewan. It pays particular attention to reform initiatives in Saskatchewan since 1995. The final section presents information on the welfare reform experiments in the United States post-1996. Finally, a brief recommendations section is based on the comparison of how Saskatchewan currently provides welfare compared with successful reform programs in Canada and the United States.

Saskatchewan has attempted a series of moderate welfare reforms, including the implementation of several programs aimed at reintegrating individuals into productive society, including the Provincial Training Allowance and Youth Futures and the JobStart/Future Skills Program. The centerpiece of reform thus far has been changes made under the Building Independence-Investing in Families initiative, a program which has been largely aimed at providing low-income families with income supplements and incentives to return to work.

Saskatchewan spent nearly $1.2 billion on social services, broadly defined, in 2001/02, representing a 22.9 percent real increase since 1993/4. The percentage of total expenditures consumed by social services also increased, from 9.7 percent in 1993/4 to 12.2 percent in 2001/02. Per capita social service spending increased from $941 in 1993/4 to $1,146 in 2001/02, representing a 21.8 percent real increase.

Between 1993/94 and 2001/02, Saskatchewan had the largest percentage increase in Canada in social services spending, both total and per capita. To put Saskatchewan's increase in social services spending in context. Alberta managed to decrease such spending by 42.9 percent, and neighbouring Manitoba constrained the spending increase to 2.2 percent.
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