Social Policy and Administration, vol.39, no.1, February 2005

Two articles in this edition of Social Policy and Administration will be of interest to this Newsletter’s readers.

The first is, ‘Child Poverty in Northern Ireland: The limits of Welfare-to-Work policies’, by Goretti Horgan (pp.49-64). This article charts some of the reasons for 32% of children in Northern Ireland living in households whose only income derives from benefits: unemployment, low pay, a high cost of living, low levels of public services, large families, and higher inequality than in the rest of the UK. The Government is relying on Welfare-to-Work policies to reduce child poverty, but in Northern Ireland these often exacerbate the problem because transitions into and out of paid employment can cause severe financial difficulties for poor families. The author suggests that there is a ‘clear need for policy to provide greater protection during periods of transition between benefits and paid work and vice versa. Given that parents, including lone parents, are being encouraged to enter the ‘flexible labour market’, the benefits system must also become more flexible and cushion families from the effect of these transitions’ (p.60).

The article concludes:

Welfare-to-work policies cannot eliminate child poverty in areas of high unemployment and low wages. Even in strong labour markets, there will be parents, especially lone mothers, who want to look after their children themselves without having to cope with a paid job. There will also be those who cannot work or who need the support of vastly improved public services in order to take up employment. Policies aimed at ending child poverty must take account of these realities if they are to have any hope of success (p.62).

The second article is ‘Rituals of Degradation: Administration as Policy in the Ontario Works programme’, by Dean Herd, Andrew Mitchell and Ernie Lightman (pp.65-79). This article discusses changes in the benefits regime in Ontario (which in 1995 moved in a ‘welfare-to-work’ direction) and in particular examines administrative changes. The authors conclude that ‘a deliberately cumbersome and complicated application process, excessive and inappropriate requests for information, and deliberately confusing procedures and language have combined to create administrative pretexts for restricting access and accelerating exits’ (p.76).