Spatial Dimensions of Welfare Reform: The Importance of Local Context
Welfare reforms of the 1990s have led to significant changes in the design, implementation and outcomes of welfare reform. These changes reflect a spatialised diversity in the way income assistance policies and programs are designed and administered. Welfare reform restructuring in terms of narrowing eligibility, instituting mandatory work requirements, and devolving implementation responsibilities to consistently more local levels of government has created new spatial relations - between levels and roles of government, the welfare system, its recipients and local communities. These spatial influences encompass relationships of power and space that play out across disciplines of social work, human and economic geography, rural sociology and political science that inevitably influence the nature, focus, and effectiveness of welfare reform policy and programs. The central aim of this research was to understand how spatial relations influenced welfare reform policy and program outcomes as they relate to welfare reforms’ primary emphasis on fostering economic independence through enforcing mandatory, rapid labour force attachment. Focusing on how the spatial elements of distance, place and scale are used within welfare reform and ways in which spatial relations manifest within local geographical, social and economic contexts, the study explored the significance of space in welfare reform policy design and program outcomes in rural and non-metropolitan contexts. Design and structural features of welfare reform (the Ontario Works program) and theoretical underpinnings focusing on power and space were also considered in order to form an understanding of how space can be a definitive factor in facilitating or constraining economic independence among welfare recipients. The paper concludes by summarising key influences of space on welfare reform and offers recommendations for more effective welfare reform policy and programming for urban and non-urban contexts.
Keywords: Welfare Reform, Social Welfare, Poverty, Space
Anita Lynn Vaillancourt
Professor, Faculty of Social Work, The University of Toronto