This document is available for download:
Document without appendices (Acrobat 3.01, 296 KB)
Appendices 1, 2, 6, and 8 (Acrobat 3.01, 32 KB)
Appendix 3 (Acrobat 3.01, 31 KB)
Appendix 4 (Excel 5.0, 55 KB)
Appendix 5 (Excel 5.0, 38 KB)
Appendix 7 (Acrobat 3.01, 30 KB)
(Acrobat Reader is available free from http://www.adobe.com/acrobat/)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
For more information contact:
A Profile of Women Receiving Social Assistance in 1994
Centre for International Statistics
Canadian Council on Social Development
The research and publication of this study were funded by Status of Women Canada's Policy Research Fund. This document expresses the views and opinions of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official policy or opinion of Status of Women Canada or the Government of Canada.
As an interim measure during the fiscal year 1996-1997, consultation participants agreed that short-term research projects addressing immediate needs should be undertaken while the external committee was being established to develop longer-term priorities. In this context, policy research on issues surrounding the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) and access to justice were identified as priorities.
On June 21, 1996, a call for research proposals on the impact of the CHST on women was issued. The proposals were assessed by Status of Women Canada and external reviewers. The research projects selected for funding in this area focus on women receiving social assistance, economic security for families with children, women with disabilities, the availability and affordability of child care services, women and health care, and women's human rights.
The call for research proposals on access to justice was issued on July 18, 1996. Also assessed by Status of Women Canada and external reviewers, the selected policy research projects in this area include a study of abused immigrant women, lesbians, women and civil legal aid, family mediation, and the implications for victims of sexual harassment of the Supreme Court ruling in Béliveau St. Jacques.
The objective of Status of Women Canada's Policy Research Fund is to enhance public debate on gender equality issues and contribute to the ability of individuals and organizations to participate more effectively in the policy development process. We believe that good policy is based on good policy research. We thank all the authors for their contribution to this objective.
A complete listing of the research projects funded by Status of Women Canada on issues surrounding the Canada Health and Social Transfer and access to justice is provided at the end of this report.
Katherine Scott, Senior Research and Policy Associate
Since its introduction in 1995, the CHST has resulted in a 15 per cent decrease in federal transfers intended for health, postsecondary education and social assistance and services to the provinces. The value of the total entitlement transferred to all provinces - a combination of cash and tax points - has fallen from $29.7 billion in 1995-96 to $25.1 billion in 1997-98. Specifically, the federal government has reduced the cash transfer by roughly $6.3 billion over this period. The cash transfer was set to fall another $1.4 billion by 1999-2000, but the federal government announced in April 1997 that they would freeze the cash floor at its 1997-98 level of $12.5 billion.
This study provides a starting point or benchmark to track the impact of welfare reform on women receiving social assistance. It offers a comprehensive portrait of women on social assistance in 1994 - the year before the announcement of the CHST - including their demographic, labour market and income characteristics and taking into account differences based on age, family status, the presence of dependent children, ethnicity, immigration status, ability, housing tenure and region.
In 1994, 14 per cent of non-elderly adult women - 1,280,000 women - were members of families that received social assistance for all or part of the year. The largest group of women receiving social assistance were married or common-law women living with a male partner (43 per cent, or 544,000). Of this group, 297,000 (55 per cent) had children living at home. The second largest group of adult female social assistance recipients was lone-parent mothers (27 per cent of all women on social assistance, or 339,000). An additional 16 per cent of female social assistance recipients (202,000) were living as unattached individuals, i.e., they were living alone or with other non-relatives. Roughly 1 in 10 adult women on social assistance (121,000) were never-married adult children living with one or both parents, and 6 per cent are in other family arrangements.
There are many economically vulnerable groups of women who depend on provincial social assistance programs. Lone mothers, young women under the age of 25 and unattached older women aged 55 to 64 years have higher rates of social assistance receipt. Mothers of young children, especially lone mothers, are also at high risk for relying on social assistance.
Social assistance receipt is roughly the same across Canada, with the exception of the Prairie provinces where all women, regardless of family type, have lower rates. Women from visible minority groups do not have a higher incidence of social assistance receipt; in fact, as a group, they have lower rates than the non-visible minority population. While women's immigration status is linked to the likelihood of being a social assistance recipient, this trend is only evident among fairly recent immigrants who face significant barriers to labour market participation. Women with disabilities are also much more likely than women without disabilities to rely on social assistance.
To most people, social assistance tends to be perceived as an all-or-nothing state. Reality is much more complicated. Forty-one per cent of women who received social assistance income in 1994 had paid employment at some point during the year, while 59 per cent did not do paid work. These statistics demonstrate that social assistance receipt is transitional. In any given year, many women receiving social assistance have a mix of income transfers and earnings.
In 1994, women living in families that reported social assistance income received an average of $7,773. Lone-parent families received the highest average amount, while unattached women received the lowest. For some women, social assistance income makes up a very large share of their total family income: for unattached individuals, social assistance income in 1994 represented 72 per cent of total income; and for lone-parent mothers, social assistance made up 54 per cent of total family income. On the other hand, among married women with children, social assistance income in 1994 represented a significant but relatively lower (25 per cent) share of total family income. Clearly, some women live in families in which receipt of social assistance is a short-term income source. The high share of social assistance income among unattached individuals and lone-parent mothers is clearly related to family context and the problems faced by many single-earner families or households.
Poverty rates among women receiving social assistance are considerably higher than the rates among women in general. For example, while the overall rate of poverty of non-elderly adult women was 17 per cent, it was 55 per cent for those who received social assistance. The higher rates of poverty among social assistance recipients are especially pronounced among unattached women (90 per cent poverty rate) and lone-parent mothers (82 per cent).
In dollar terms, cuts to social assistance would have the biggest impact on lone parents, followed by married women with children, adult children, married women with no children and unattached women. On average, female social assistance recipients faced with a 10 per cent reduction would see their benefits decrease by an average of $777; a 20 per cent cut would decrease their benefits by $1,555. For lone parents, a 10 per cent cut to social assistance would translate into an average income loss of $946 per year, and a 20 per cent cut would result in a $1,893 reduction in annual income. Overall, a 10 per cent cut to social assistance - assuming no change in the pattern of usage - would result in an increase of 26,000 poor women on social assistance, while a cut of 20 per cent would increase the number of poor women receiving social assistance by 42,000. The biggest increase in number of poor women would be among lone parents, followed by unattached women.
Changes to provincial social assistance will clearly affect the economic security of women who currently rely on the program and of many others who may be in need of income support in the future. In the face of a labour market that is increasingly characterized by the growth of "good" jobs and "bad" jobs, women remain economically vulnerable. What this profile of social assistance recipients reveals is that women who are not able to combine incomes with other family members are at very high risk of living in poverty. Lone-parent mothers are especially vulnerable to this unstable environment of low-wage employment and impoverished public income security programs.
Last updated: September 9, 1998