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Social assistance in New Westminster : a survey of origins, and the current pattern Willems, Harry Alexander

Abstract

Persons not covered by categorical aid programs (such as old age assistance and mother's allowance ) and insurance schemes (such as old age security and unemployment insurance), are cared for by the social assistance program in British Columbia. The present study is concerned with this residual group of persons in one community - New Westminster. The development of the present assistance program is traced, the changes in caseload that have occurred in the last four years are considered, and a survey made of the cases that received assistance in 1951. A social assistance program has been in operation in New Westminster for the past fifty years, during which time major changes have occurred. The principle of local responsibility for caring for the destitute has been modified, and the provincial government today assumes major financial responsibility for social assistance, and has formulated the policy which is followed by all public assistance agencies in the province. In contrast to the "relief days”, unemployable persons today comprise the major group of persons receiving help. The employment of social workers to implement policy is also a recognized principle. Social assistance in New Westminster is only one function of the public agency. The stigma attached to charity in the relief days has decreased and persons in need are regarding assistance as a legitimate resource in times of financial stress. The total caseload of the New Westminster agency has increased in the last four years of joint municipal-provincial operation, but this increase had been particularly prominent in the social assistance caseload. Minor (and constant) fluctuations in the number of persons requiring help have occurred, and there is a tendency for the assistance caseload to decrease in late summer. Judging from the eight-month period in 1951, the social assistance caseload is characterized by a turnover in cases as high as one in three. The social worker has met these changes by giving more of his time to the social assistance caseload. The persons receiving assistance are not a homogenous group. They include persons who receive assistance as a temporary measure, and those for whom assistance is a permanent source of income. Again, the social assistance group is made up of persons whose only problem is financial destitution, and those who have problems requiring casework help. A high proportion of the persons have been married at one time but are now living alone. The majority of the people on assistance are over sixty years of age, and these people suffer from crippling ailments, particularly heart disease and arthritis. One-third of the 558 persons who benefited from assistance in April 1951 were dependent children, one-half of them under ten years of age. The majority of the dependents live with a widowed or separated woman. The majority of the 122 men who received assistance in April 1951, had been previously employed as unskilled labourers. The majority.pf the 248 women who received assistance were housewives with no specific occupational training. Social assistance in New Westminster is a heterogenous residual category of public assistance, with considerable fluctuation in size, indicating that the social assistance program needs to be flexible. The rates of assistance also need to be more flexible, to permit adequate coverage for persons requiring temporary help and for those requiring long-term financial assistance. An alternative would be to provide separate insurance programs for the major groups of destitutes, such as mothers with dependent children; and categorical aid programs for the totally and permanently disabled. In order to provide the casework help that sixty per cent of the cases need, the number of social workers needs to be increased. The employment of an experienced worker is essential to provide (a) uniform policy respecting eligibility and (b) early diagnosis, to ensure the application of the principle of differential treatment for the mixed groups of persons comprising the social assistance category.

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