CERB was luxurious compared to provincial social assistance
The federal government’s economic response to COVID-19 included a new income support called the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). What was it like living on CERB when it was available, and how did that compare to those who were still working or receiving provincial social assistance?
Surviving on the $ 2,000 CERB per month was certainly a pinch. Given that the median employment income in Canada was $ 36,900 in 2019, the CERB replaced only two-thirds of the average Canadian’s monthly employment income. Considering that half of Canadians are only $ 200 from insolvency on a monthly basis, this has been a big success.
Yet for those who received provincial disability and welfare benefits, CERB was a luxury. Under the Ontario Disability Support Program, people continued to receive only $ 1,169 per month (with top-ups of $ 100 per month in the event of a pandemic until the end of July 2020). This is only two-thirds of the CERB level, but still above the $ 733 per month provided to Ontario social assistance recipients who were not eligible for CERB.
To understand what it was like to survive on CERB versus provincial social assistance programs, we surveyed Ontarians about their employment and income status during the COVID-19 pandemic. We received almost 800 responses to our online survey, which allowed us to assess the relative experiences of these groups.
A fundamental goal of CERB was to keep people fed and housed during the lockdown. CERB recipients were similar to those who still worked when it came to food, but were closer to those who received provincial social assistance in their housing security assessment. One third of social assistance recipients often did not have enough to eat; half went days without food. Sixty-three percent buy nutritious food less often, and almost a third increasingly turn to food charities.
In contrast, CERB beneficiaries did much better, with only a tenth a day without food and a quarter buying nutritious food less often. Their distress rates on these measures were only slightly higher than those who received neither CERB nor social assistance.
If CERB beneficiaries continued to eat well, it was to the detriment of housing security. More than half said they struggled to keep up with rents and mortgages. Compared to workers, CERB beneficiaries were three times more likely to worry about being evicted or having to move. Their level of concern about housing was close to that of respondents receiving social assistance.
The two solitudes of CERB and social assistance extend to survival strategies. Both CERB and social assistance recipients were more likely than employed people to get into or fall behind on debt. Both groups have made more and more calls to family and friends for help. But where CERB recipients have covered deficits with lines of credit, welfare recipients have relied more on payday loans and pawn shops.
Despite these difficulties, CERB beneficiaries were the group that gave the highest rating to the government’s economic response. As respondents’ comments made clear, CERB was an economic lifeline when the economy came to a standstill.
Social assistance recipients were the least satisfied, with only one in seven approving. While their income did not drop during the pandemic, their costs rose and mutual aid-based survival strategies became difficult when stuck. Eighty percent said they had suffered the loss of meaningful relationships, compared to only half of CERB beneficiaries and those still working.
What political lessons have CERB and provincial social assistance recipients learned from their experience? Here the solitudes converge.
Two-thirds of both groups became more supportive of the role of government in supporting society. When asked to name three policy priorities for expanding government support, Basic Income was the most popular, with nine in ten social assistance recipients and nearly three-quarters of CERB recipients ranking it in their top three. first choices. This is followed by affordable housing (66% and 51% respectively) and a dental plan (45% and 49%).
Read more: How to Build a Better Canada After COVID-19: Turn CERB into a Basic Annual Income Program
Proposals to reorganize the advantages
These opinions are consistent with a number of action plans to renew the social protections of citizens. The Caledon Institute has proposed to reorganize benefits to provide income, housing, training and disability benefits to all low-income people.
Others called for an expansion of public services, dental care, vision and medicine to ensure that people can take care of their basic health regardless of the quality of their jobs or whether they are working at home. at some point. Many of these ideas are echoed in the December 2020 report of the BC Expert Panel on Basic Income.
Read more: Canadians should be able to access dental care with a health card instead of a credit card
The federal government’s September 2020 Speech from the Throne recognized these plans with its promise of a disability inclusion plan, including a benefit that would improve existing provincial social assistance.
He also pledged increased public investment in housing and a national drug plan. These are not new promises and they were largely forgotten in the recent 2021 federal budget. The question remains whether the CERB experience can support the political momentum for the renewal of income security measures.