Re-Visioning the Environment of Support for Single Mothers in Extreme Poverty

Re-Visioning the Environment of
Support for Single Mothers in Extreme
 Dr. Penny Gurstein, UBC
 Silvia Vilches, Ph.D. student, UBC
Round Table Respondents:
• Dr. Sylvia Fuller, UBC - Sociology
• Dr. Paul Kershaw, UBC – HELP &
Political Science,
• Dr. Jane Pulkingham, SFU - Sociology
Round Table Chair:
 Dr. Marge Reitsma-Street
(University of Victoria)
• Dr. Margot Young, UBC – Law
• And you….
Income Assistance Project
• Investigates the experiences of single mothers on income
assistance to better understand how public policies can respond
to the support needed by these women to adequately care for their
child(ren) and themselves
• Data derived from “The Income Assistance Project” - a five-year
research project which documents how changes to IA affect the
daily lives of single mother families with preschool children
through qualitative, in-depth interviews every 6 months over a
three-year period with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women living
in urban Vancouver and the rural Bulkley Valley
Understanding the Policy Context:
Whose Responsibility?
• Welfare Diamond – the relationship of the
public/state, the market, the community or
voluntary sector & the family
– in terms of the provision of care for those in need
• Three questions that highlight gendered nature
of care (after Jenson)
– Who cares?
– Who pays?
– Whose responsibility is it?
The system of support – thinking
with an ecological framework
Public sector/ State
• Community services; Housing regulation &
support; Child care; Income assistance; Medical
supports; Social services programs; Schools
Family supports
• Family, friends, neighbours, etc.
graphic &
• Food banks; neighbourhood
associations, houses, voluntary
• labour market; housing market; job
history; globalization;
Interlocking Support Systems
Well, my sister helps me, and that is really neat. I felt really guilty
before, like, that’s why I even ended up being with my kids for three
and a half years non-stop. And I remember too, I was just so
exhausted, like I had to think if I could just have a 20 minute nap I
would feel okay again but I couldn’t - because I couldn’t even take a
shower, because my boys were like that….But she’s helped me a lot
with, like, ways that she’s been to me and stuff. And it’s sometimes
nice just to have somebody to talk to, like. And I didn’t want to
pressure her, because she doesn’t have any kids, so it’s not like I
want to make my problems other peoples’ problems. (“Laura”)
A Precarious Social Network
My kids gotta have something first before
[I eat]. I don’t care if I don’t eat. I always
say that [to myself] I don’t care about me,
but I care about you. (“Olivia”)
need comes first
Inflexible demand - inelastic
Women = providers = responsible
Social Supports: A Two-way Street
Complex webs of interaction
Reciprocal set of obligations
A Fragile System
Stressing the System
• Balancing need with
giving: Women are…
• Social networks does not
always equal “social
– source of support to
immediate family &
– receive support from
– Forcing women to resort to
their social networks can put
them at risk of violence
– Can weaken others in their
– Can obligate them to return
Impacts of Policies on Daily Living
• Housing insecurity = food insecurity
– food insecurity puts the health and safety of mothers and their
children at risk
• Lowering of income assistance amounts
– precipitates both housing and food insecurity
• Dependency of women on the system of financial
– Increases insecurity of their basic living supports
• Health & Disabilities increases the risk
• Linked in an “ecological system”
• Makes women work harder to cope
Re-Imagining Social Supports
• Policy that achieves outcomes…
– Gives women credit for supporting others
– Applauds sharing rather than penalizing it
– Ensures that women can maintain barriers to
preserve personal safety
– Provides adequate food security supports
– Recognizes significant health problems within the
family as requiring extra supports for the carer
– Identifies children as doing best when cared for
adequately within a family context
– Links paid and unpaid work
Re-Imagining Responsibility &
Public sector/ State, responsible for reducing poverty:
• Recognizing the integrated nature of supports –
infrastructure – as a service to all, not just targeted
population – e.g. hot lunch programs in schools
Case workers
as advocates
graphic &
Supporting the supports
• Letting family, friends, neighbours,
speak for need.
• Paying for services
• Not exhausting networks –
appreciating networks – credits?
Supporting Community to help
• Food banks; neighbourhood
associations, houses, voluntary sector
Re-Imagining the Role of Market
• Addressing systemic inequalities – responsible to leg.
• Re-asserting the role of state as an essential and
necessary partner even in the face of globalization
A Context of Support
• Re-imagining the family as an essential support
system requires moving public policy away from
a focus on the individual and toward
strengthening the capacity of networks, both
formal and informal, to work together to support
women, children and families.
Not just income security changes… but a
change in the way we see ourselves as citizens