The Welfare Trap

Welfare systems began with the noble intent of helping those unable to help themselves. Well, actually those noble intentions were somewhat tainted from the beginning. Christians had long felt a need to help those most in need. Governments, motivated by the social gospel, decided people needed something better than to rely on charity.  Thus a bureaucracy was built step by step, and the bureaucracy needs clients to justify its existence. Therefore, it has become increasingly difficult for welfare clients to escape the system.

Whatever the faults of Christian charity, it did not encroach on people’s dignity nearly as much as organized welfare systems. These systems are structured so that there are penalties for every effort a person makes to become self supporting. Income from a part time job is deducted from welfare payments. Find full time employment and you lose your rent subsidy and many other benefits. Enrol in a government sponsored training program and you likewise lose all your benefits. Whether such disincentives are deliberate or not, the fact is that the system is rigged to keep people on welfare. After a while many people give up hope of finding a way out.

Then there are the child welfare services. One lady went from foster home to foster home during her growing up years and was left feeling that she must have been a difficult child. In her adult years she approached the welfare agency and was given a report of the times she had been moved. In every case there there had been some misconduct by the foster parents — she had never been the problem.

Here in Saskatchewan, many First Nations reserves have their own child welfare agencies. They try to provide some continuity in the life of a child that is at risk in the home of his parents by placing him with relatives. That seems like a sensible solution. The problem is that many families live off reserve and when problems arise they fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial social services agency. Children are placed in foster homes that may not have any understanding of their cultural background. At the first sign of trouble the child is moved to a new home. And on and on. What they most need is stability and only a few find it.

Some foster parents are able to manoeuvre through the bureaucratic jungle of social services and provide a secure and stable home for children in their care. They do a wonderful job, But they are not produced by the system The good that they do is the result of their personal convictions and principles.

The idea that governments can create a better world, where everyone is valued, everyone’s needs are met and everyone’s dignity is respected, has not worked out in practice. This is the social gospel, and it is a false gospel. Yet people are still looking to governments to fix what they have broken.

3 thoughts on “The Welfare Trap

  1. We can’t leave children destitute, either … or abandon them to the wolves.
    Are there ways to support and nurture more caring foster homes of the sort you describe? That looks like the best alternative at the moment.

  2. Worthy thoughts. The problem is not simple, it takes great wisdom to know when to help, how to help and when helping will only make matters worse.
    There are different layers to the problem of children in care. Here in Saskatchewan First Nations (Indians) make up about 10% of the population. 50% of the children in care are Indian. The Indian problem began over a century ago when the government of the time thought there was going to be an Indian problem, so scooped up the children and put them in residential schools to try and teach them not to be Indians. That created a genuine Indian problem as it undermined family structure and demoralized people. Every succeeding generation has grappled with the Indian problem, and it has continued to grow. I like the idea of allowing Indian social service agencies to deal with Indian social issues. They will fumble along and make mistakes, but likely not as many as well-meaning whites have made.

  3. I grew up on welfare. Family of 5 $6000 a year. My stepdad would dumpster dive to try to feed us. I cannot say that welfare is a social gospel, nor can I say that people look to it to fix their mistakes. Sometimes people are just trying to survive. Thank God for welfare because if those people looked to their community or churches to help them they would starve and die.

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