Workfare: Ideology for a New Under-Class


181 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55193-010-2
DDC 362.5'8'0971





Edited by Eric Shragge
Reviewed by Henry G. MacLeod

Henry G. MacLeod teaches sociology at both Trent University and the
University of Waterloo.


This book of essays demonstrates that workfare is more effective as a
campaign strategy for political parties than as a means of getting
people back to work and off social assistance.

The book begins with a critical overview of the nature of social
assistance and workfare programs. The first three chapters examine the
experience of workfare in New Brunswick, Quebec, and Alberta,
respectively, while the fourth describes the role that the promotion of
workfare played in Ontario premier Mike Harris’s electoral victory in
1995. Chapter 6 reviews workfare experiences in the United States. The
concluding chapter considers ways to build anti-workfare coalitions.

The contributors show that, as a policy, work-fare programs blame
unemployment on its victims rather than on such factors as downsizing
and globalization. They conclude that workfare does not produce decent
jobs with decent pay for all who need them. The essays highlight several
myths that led voters to support workfare. For example, during the
Ontario election, “Everyone claimed to know someone who knew someone
who was cheating on welfare—though few could name names.”

Although the contributors make the case against workfare, they do not
offer any new strategies for ending poverty and social inequality.
Instead, they engage in their own brand of rhetoric. For example, the
statement that “the federal government spends almost exactly the same
amount of money on tax exemptions for Registered Retirement Savings Plan
deductions as federal and provincial governments spend on welfare” is
used to suggest that deferred taxes and social assistance are comparable
social benefits. Even if this were true, blaming the tax benefits of the
employed is not going to get people back to work and off social


“Workfare: Ideology for a New Under-Class,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 23, 2024,