Rituals of Degradation: Administration as Policy in the Ontario Works Programme

After the election of a neo-liberal provincial government in 1995, Ontario was at the forefront of work-based welfare reform in Canada. Many of the sweeping reforms carried out under the banner of the “Common Sense Revolution” received widespread coverage: for example, reductions in welfare rates, the introduction of the Ontario Works programme, the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy for so-called welfare fraud, and changes to the rules relating to common-law spousal relationships. However, much less attention has focused upon significant changes to the ways welfare is delivered. This paper critically interrogates a number of key changes to the Service Delivery Model in Ontario. After the passage of federal legislation in 1995, national entitlements to welfare have been terminated, replaced with local responsibility; this decentralization is changing not only the hierarchy of the regulation of poor people, but also the form and function of provision. In particular, there is evidence of the reinvention of administration towards the micro-regulation of job search and personal behaviour and the deterrence of welfare receipt as applicants and recipients are bureaucratically disentitled. Although administrative practices have historically acted as a secondary barrier to welfare receipt, the paper suggests that the current incarnation of work-enforcing reforms could be especially significant as the worlds of welfare and work continue to change.

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Social Policy & Administration
Ontario, Canada