Since the adoption of the Act to combat poverty and social exclusion in 2002, Québec has carried out a full round of efforts with the implementation of two action plans.
Statistics suggest that progress has been made, but in an unequal and inadequate manner. What about the incomes of the poorest members of society, the unemployed and those with precarious low-paying jobs?
For many households, it is the increase in minimum wage that has made the greatest difference.
By using government data to simulate the situation of typical low-income households in 1995, 2007 and 2012, we found that the adopted reforms have had an impact, but not necessarily as expected. Public policies have focused on families, and primarily those in which at least one member is employed. For many households, it is the increase in minimum wage that has made the greatest difference. Québec may have become a “paradise for families”, but this is mainly true for families who are part of the labour market.
What about the income of people on social assistance? Comparing the evolution of social assistance income in the ten Canadian provinces for the period 1990-2009, we can establish that there have been slight improvements to social assistance income, but amounts vary greatly from province to province. These variations are explained less by relative wealth or the size of federal transfers than by the political and social context of each province. Unionization rates and public debt, in particular, influence social assistance income levels. Highly unionized provinces are the most generous towards people in need; those with the highest debt are less so. The elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan in 1995 also exerted downward pressure on social assistance income.
Alain Noël, Université de Montréal
Deposit of the research report: December 2015