Poor in Saskatchewan need more than T.E.A.

Province’s Building Independence Program forces the poor into “low wage” trap
October 14, 2005

Monday, October 17th has been declared International Day for the
Eradication of Poverty by the United Nations. However, anti-poverty
groups and researchers at the University of Regina say Saskatchewan has
lost a significant opportunity to eradicate poverty. Rather than using
larger than expected budget surpluses from oil and gas royalties to
deal with poverty, the province has extensively reduced social
assistance (welfare) benefits.

“The government claims there has
been a 41% reduction in welfare caseloads in Saskatchewan since they
introduced their Building Independence Program in 1997 and that they
are making progress in dealing with poverty,” says Dr. Garson Hunter,
co-author of a new research report on poverty in Saskatchewan released
today by the Social Policy Research Unit at the University of Regina
and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“What they
aren’t telling you is that what they’ve really done is move people from
welfare to a new ‘workfare’ program called the Transition to Employment
Program (TEA) – a program with significantly reduced benefits and an
unquestioning emphasis on employment under any conditions,” says
Hunter. “Even the disabled, new mothers with babies, people
experiencing mental distress and the handicapped are being placed on
this program if they could at some time in their lives be ‘eligible’ to
participate in a pre-employment program. With a twist of language that
George Orwell would approve, the new TEA Regulations state
“Pre-employment services’ means a service not necessarily related to
employment that, if received by an individual, is likely to assist the
individual in becoming able to obtain employment,” says Hunter.

As the business community wishes to increasingly offer “flexible
employment” with low-wages, no security and little in the way of
benefits, we see the income-support programs of the welfare state being
adjusted to serve the changing business labour needs. “This direction
may serve the interests of the business community for a ‘flexible’
labour force of unskilled and temporary jobs,” says Hunter, “But it
offers little to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens of the

The report’s co-author Kathleen Donovan says
anti-poverty advocates will tell you that thousands of people are being
inappropriately placed onto the TEA program. Applicants no longer meet
with staff to apply for assistance; rather applications for benefits
are now administered over the phone through an inefficient province
wide call centre.

She says it is also alarming that under the
TEA program actual costs of utilities for the poor are no longer
covered. Instead, a flat rated amount for utilities is provided which
doesn’t come close to covering actual costs, especially in sub-standard

“Minister Crofford was proud to announce that social
assistance recipients (SAP) would receive $10 more per month after last
May’s budget. What she neglected to tell us is that under the TEA
program, which the majority of people are now being diverted onto, a
single parent with one child receives $66 less per month or $792 less
per year than under the Social Assistance Program.

This fact, together with budget shortfalls from increased utility
costs is likely to mean cuts to food spending and increased use of food
banks,” concludes Hunter and Donovan.

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For more information, contact Garson Hunter at 585-4643 or Lynn Gidluck, Director, CCPA Saskatchewan at 584-9807.