What We Heard

The shame and stigma associated with social assistance was an on-going theme. People spoke about stigma with respect to relationships with partners (or lack of relationship), coming onto assistance, working with one’s caseworker, finding employment, and access to housing.

Most often stigma was raised in terms of relationships, especially with partners, family and friends. With partners, stigma was often talked about in terms of power imbalances in relationships. This most often occurred with women, who discussed the dynamics of having to completely rely on a partner for income, and having no source of income on your own. Others talked about avoiding looking for a partner for that reason. “One, I don’t have a partner, two I don’t have money, three I don’t look because they want and I have nothing to give.”
A common theme revolved around the loss of friendships and other networks as a result of receiving social assistance. People talk about being a burden to friends, because they cannot afford to go out for dinner, coffee or any of the activities they often do with friends. Over time they’re come to be viewed as “a liability.” Eventually people find themselves surrounded by friends in the “same place,” with no role models of people moving forward and improving their lives. This is particularly true as affordable housing is often ghettoized. “When I went on social assistance people started looking down on me, avoiding me. I wasn’t included in a lot of things, mostly because I couldn’t afford them.”

A particular issue arose for people with disabilities, which was the stigma faced in the workplace. Many employers feel that people are going to be too difficult to accommodate or otherwise be a burden.

Generally people discuss stigma as it relates to their worker. “Some make you feel like you need to beg for services.” From the “glass partition” to the treatment of people by their worker (which will be further shown in the “Caseworkers” video) the stigma of the social assistance system was raised repeatedly in interviews and named by the Blueprinters in their analysis.

Questions For Discussion

1. What are the practical things that could be done to reduce stigma when people come to their welfare office for assistance?
2. Some say social assistance is by nature stigmatizing. What would a non-stigmatized system look like?
3. People often turn to family and friends to help them through difficult times. How can the system be designed to support people to do that rather than hinder it?
4. How can policy mitigate unequal gender relationships?