Inequality erodes opportunity, and limited opportunity exacerbates inequality. This vicious intergenerational cycle has brought inclusive growth into question, contributed to the rise of populist sentiment, and strained the social contract in many rich countries. The way forward for researchers and policy makers requires not only a clear understanding of the facts about what kind of inequality matters and how it matters, but also an ethical grounding that speaks to the outcomes and opportunities that are important to citizens not only in the here and now, but also in the next generation.
It is the stated goal of the Canadian federal government to foster “a strong and inclusive labour market that provides every Canadian with opportunities for a good quality of life.” The legacy of COVID has, however, led to policy incoherence, with some significant reforms directly putting this goal into question.
People with “Lived experience” is how policy wonks and political staffers refer to them, stressing the importance of consulting citizens who are struggling with the challenges of living in poverty and facing the barriers of moving toward a better life.
This means it gets read by a whole group of people who are not policy wonks, and often by people with “lived experience,” who often cry out and share their stories by proposing a comment for my web page, which if it has done any good helped them to realize how far below the poverty line they may well be.
I hesitate approving their comments for public viewing because of their revealing and personal nature.
But maybe I shouldn’t. They have voice, but they need to be listened to. So here is one more voice that encapsulates so much, and in many different ways, of what makes policy to the poor so important, but also reveals the limits of current actions.
Three next steps for social policy involve: 1. Maximizing auto-enrollment and just-in-time program delivery; 2. Offering full income support with engagement; and 3. Offering broad income and earnings insurance with agency. In this post I introduce the detailed discussion of these proposals that you can also download.
On March 24th, 2020 the Government of Canada Tabled Bill C-13, “An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19,” in the House of Commons, and the next day the Bill received Royal Assent, unleashing the most extensive and quickest change to Canadian social policy in living memory, if not in the history of the country.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit is the most notable part of the Bill, offering $2,000 of income support every four weeks to all working age Canadians who made at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months and lost their source of income due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Almost immediately the public policy discussion turned to “what’s next?” Certainly this was so in the short-term as the government and the public service became fully engaged in meeting the evolving needs of citizens and businesses in response to the most serious health and economic crises the country has experienced since World War II.
But increasingly, as the weeks and months passed, it was also so in the longer term: What’s next for the design of social policy in light of the needs and the gaps that the COVID-19 crisis has revealed?
Social mobility varies across countries, but it varies in a particular way, a way that I argue is relevant for the conduct of public policy.
Inequality begets inequality. Up to 50% of income inequality is passed on to the next generation in countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States, but only 20% or even less in countries like Norway, Denmark and Finland, where there is a much smaller gap between parent incomes.
But different kinds of inequality matter in different ways for social mobility.
Research using the variation of social mobility within countries like the United States and Canada shows that intergenerational cycles of low income are more likely in communities that have more bottom half inequality, the correlation with overall inequality and with top end inequality being much weaker. Upward mobility is easier when the poorest incomes are not that far off from middle incomes.
The bottom line for public policy is don’t let inequality increase in the bottom half of the income distribution, indeed strive to reduce it in a way that encourages labour market and social engagement.
The first step a newly elected Prime Minister takes on the road to governing is choosing the members of cabinet and giving them their marching orders. Prime Minister Trudeau set to this task with zeal when he was first elected in the autumn of 2015, and surprised many by making the mandate letters public. The CD Howe Institute asked a number of experts to draft their versions, and this post offers a slightly longer version of the mandate letter I wrote for the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development published by the Institute.
All Canadians have a right to live the life they value with dignity.
As Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, your actions should be governed by this principle, and directed to three concerns:
promoting economic well-being and ensuring that those facing challenging circumstances are able to fully participate in our society with dignity;
fostering equal opportunities and inclusion for all, regardless of family background, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation;
enhancing economic and social resilience, whether Canadians live in families or on their own.
With these in mind, I will expect you to work with your colleagues through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities.