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The social construction of welfare fraud : the impact on front-line workers and welfare recipients in British Columbia (1993-1996) Mason, Judy Lee


This study is centered around examining the impact that the recent welfare reform has had on front-line workers in the welfare bureaucracy and the clients of the welfare system. In 1993 the government in British Columbia began implementing sweeping policy and procedural changes that altered the way in which welfare services were provided and limited the services available to the poor. The impetus for these changes is situated in the widespread media coverage of welfare fraud and abuse throughout 1993 and 1994. The media, by targeting certain sub-groups of the welfare client population, was able to substantiate their claim that the welfare system was not only being undermined but that it was also operating on the basis of policies that were flawed and therefore easily abused. This study begins with a presentation of the policy and procedural changes that have occurred within the Ministry of Social Services in British Columbia from 1993 to 1996. The second section of this study examines the media's response to the "welfare fraud crisis" and the way in which a moral panic was created around the "problem" of welfare fraud. This analysis draws upon moral panic and social constructionist theory to examine not only the media's presentation of the "crisis" but also the government's response to the public concern that had been generated. The final section of this study presents a discussion of the front-line worker's response to the changes that have taken place within the Ministry of Social Services over the last four years. The analysis is centered around examining how these front-line government workers cope with the restrictive and regulatory policies they are responsible for enforcing. The study concludes with suggestion for further research on this topic.

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