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Living on a marginal budget : a discriptive study of social assistance and mothers' allowance families Evans, Maureen Ethel


Descriptive studies of family living were part of many of the classic "social surveys" and there was a revival of such studies during the depression years. Today, statistical "minimum budget" studies continue, and there are many professional studies of aspects of family case work: but post-war prosperity has obscured the need for up-to-date descriptive accounts, seen from the family's point of view, of actual living-conditions among families on social assistance and mothers' allowance, and the physical and emotional effects, especially on children, of years of such marginal living. The study begins with a brief survey of previous poverty studies, chiefly those made during the depression. To obtain the material for a local descriptive study, twelve families were visited who had been on public assistance in Vancouver City for periods ranging from three-and-a-half to fifteen years. All were families with children, and four families had both parents in the home. The families were interviewed, and sizeable questionnaires completed giving information on housing, food clothing, education, recreation, health, budgeting, and general feelings about the situation. City Social Service files were read for pertinent information about the families and social workers' knowledge of them. School nurses and a Metropolitan Health nutritionist were also consulted. Although all the families were having difficulties in managing on the allowance, it became apparent that some were managing better than others. For convenience of analysis (not because the line of division is sharp), the families were divided into two groups. Each group is discussed in a separate chapter, and an attempt has been made to assess the factors involved in good and poor adjustment. Many of the effects found in previous poverty studies were found in these families. Housing is often very poor, especially among tenant families, who are worse off than home-owners. Clothing is difficult to obtain, and much of it is second-hand or received as gifts. It is difficult for children over the age of sixteen to continue their education. Recreation is restricted and life tends to be drab and monotonous. There is some feeling of humiliation on the part of most of the families. On the other hand, the regularity of the income provides more security than many families had during the depression. The provision of medical services has apparently prevented the health of public assistance recipients from deterorating as it sometimes did in depression families. As each family was interviewed only once or twice, this study is not extensive. Nevertheless it offers a realistic picture of life on public assistance, and indicates some lacks in the present program. The fact that none of the twelve families studied was living on the allowance without help from friends, relatives, or some organization or social agency is among the evidence that the allowances are too low. The case for study of the situation with regard to clothing and dental care is particularly indicated among needs inadequately provided for. It is clear that the person-to-person quality of case work can prove helpful; but also that material deprivation can limit the response. More thorough and long-term study would be necessary to assess more accurately the personality factors which are the most important variables in adjustment to marginal living.

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