Staying Afloat on Social Assistance: Parents’ Strategies of Balancing Employability Expectations and Caregiving Demands


  • Amber Gazso York University



Using a feminist political economy lens, this paper explores the balancing of work and family by parents on social assistance in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In all three provinces, restructuring of policy has made parents' entitlement to assistance increasingly contingent on their employability efforts (e.g. mandatory job searches, participation in welfare-to-work programs). This entitlement relationship is implicated by simultaneous and contradictory processes embedded in neo-liberal restructuring - gendering and familization - that problematically affect parents' ability to balance their actual or potential employability expectations with family caregiving demands. Drawing on qualitative data from 46 interviews, this paper reveals the strategies that parents then utilize to manage these competing demands so that they can maintain their family's survival- or ";stay afloat"; - while living on social assistance. In terms of thematic areas, these intricately inter-related coping strategies include: learn the system; play the system; social support; pawning. The significance of these findings for feminist challenges of neo-liberalism and for meeting social justice goals (i.e. economic security; equality) is discussed.

Author Biography

Amber Gazso, York University

Amber Gazso is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts at York University. Her major areas of research interest are: citizenship; poverty; research methods; sociology of gender; sociology of the family; social policy. Within these broad areas of inquiry, her current research explores social assistance restructuring across Canada and its concurrent transformation of parents' social citizenship rights to income support; the dynamics of intergenerational poverty. Her recent and select publications include ";The Poverty of Unattached Senior Women and the Canadian Retirement Income System: A Matter of Blame or Contradiction?"; which appears in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare (32, 2). A forthcoming publication ";Creating Social Cohesion? The Paradoxes Posed by BC Welfare Reform"; will appear in the Canadian Review of Social Policy (57).