On Income Assistance, Can Work: A Policy Event
Kim Mackenzie is a Masters of Public Policy student at Simon Fraser University and has a background in Psychology and Critical Criminology. Kim is working as a research assistance with LEDlab and Potluck Cafe this summer, helping us to map the income assistance system and identify the greatest opportunities for innovation.
On May 19/2016, LEDlab and our parnters Potluck Café hosted an event where we brought together employers of social enterprises, non-profit and community members from the DTES, and representatives from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation to talk about working on income assistance and employment services in the DTES.
The Ministry gave us a run-down of the income assistance system, as well as the supports and services offered by Work BC. They also told us about potential opportunities for exploring community and employer partnerships to enhance labour market participation in the DTES, through their Research & Innovation initiative.
Following the presentations from the Ministry, participants broke off into small groups where they reflected and discussed their experiences. These conversations allowed representatives from the Ministry to hear some of the realities of income assistance recipients and social enterprise employers in the DTES.
The discussions focused primarily on where Ministry supports and services fall short for DTES residents. Participants noted a lack of transitional support between flexible employment options in the DTES, and the more structured employment expectations of Work BC. They also identified many barriers to inclusion of DTES residents in Work BC programs, including a lack of stable housing, food insecurity, undiagnosed medical or mental health conditions, and more.
Also identified, were several knowledge gaps, in terms of what benefits, supplements, services and programs are actually available through the Ministry, and how to navigate the complex and nuanced income assistance system. One of the most salient topics of conversation regarding income assistance was around earnings exemptions. Earnings exemptions are the amount of income that assistance recipients can earn from employment without affecting their benefits. Participants almost unanimously reported that people want to work, but are afraid of getting close to their earnings limit for fear of losing their benefits. Thus earnings exemptions create barriers to more frequent and stable employment, which employers suggested are factors that make people more employable.
Overall, the event made it clear that people in the DTES want to work, and that social enterprise employers are attempting to fill the gaps in Ministry service provision. What also became apparent was the Ministry’s interest in working with the community to enhance social impact hiring and labour market attachment in the DTES.
This is just the beginning of the conversation, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue needed to ensure residents of the DTES on income assistance who want to work, can work.
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