Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2021-01-05

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

Document type Article
Author Gazso, Amber
Journal Socialist Studies / Études socialistes
Volume 3
Date 2007 Fall
Pages 31-63


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.