What social safety net after the pandemic?

Quel filet social après la pandémie?

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The governments have not put in time to understand that their programs of employment insurance or social assistance were not to be the case in front of millions of workers processed in the unemployed by the pandemic.

The pandemic of sars coronavirus revealed large holes in the social safety net, that governments today try to patch in emergency. These change from time to time will lead to permanent reforms, or will they be forgotten as soon as the crisis is over ?

The construction of the welfare State has been punctuated by major disasters, collective, reminiscent of the experts, the two world wars we had especially bequeathed the income tax and the first major social programs. The pandemic of COVID-19 will it have the same effect ?

“During an ordinary recession, the majority of the population usually continues to have the sense to watch from a distance what is happening to others,” says Alain Noël, professor, Department of political science of the University of Montreal. But with the pandemic, even if we are still not equal, we feel we are still all affected by what happens to the other. “

However, governments have not taken a long time to understand that their programs of employment insurance or social assistance were not to be the case in front of millions of workers processed in the unemployed by the pandemic COVID-19 and their containment measures.

Also the governments have introduced a series of new measures ad hoc, such as the Provision of canadian emergency (PKU), wider, faster and more generous than existing programs. Less stigmatizing, for example, that the social assistance, this new form of aid also has the advantage of be paid regardless of the value of the assets (house, savings, retirement…) and without the constant pressure to find another job.

Help imperfect

This aid, however, is not available, for the moment, that for four months, and although extraordinarily inclusive, it is not available to all. The canadian Centre for policy alternatives has recently been estimated that 16 % of all Canadians without jobs, or 1.4 million people, are still entitled to employment insurance or to the PCU.

Some see it as nevertheless an important step in a possible long-lasting improvement of the social safety net in Canada. Can even be a step towards the establishment of a future guaranteed minimum income.

The situation, however, is far from pleasing to all the employers, particularly in sectors where wages are lower and working conditions more difficult, such as retail trade and agriculture. “While some provinces, such as Quebec, are desperate to send young Canadians on the field to help the farmers, Ottawa provides funding to students so that they can stay at home, to be paid to do nothing “, wrote last week in an open letter to the economist from the Faculty of agriculture of Dalhousie University Sylvain Charlebois.

There is the cost of all these measures. Alone, the bill of ECPS will exceed $ 35 billion this year, said the parliamentary budget officer, Yves Giroux, at the same time that the federal government’s deficit is expected to increase from 25 billion to 250 billion.

Raquel Fonseca is very familiar with such issues. The economist of the School of management sciences of UQAM was part of the committee of experts which the government of Quebec commissioned a report on the minimum income guaranteed in 2017. The problems of the cost of such a programme, but also its negative effect on the incentive to work, kept coming back.

There would probably already taking place, according to it, you begin to refine the new measures put in place to better help workers who are most in need, and to prepare others to return to work. In some cases, it could be, for example, start to tie financial aid to vocational training.

The world to come

For Alain Noël, the optimistic scenario would be that the shock inflicted by the pandemic to serve, at least, to remind us of ” the importance of the mechanisms of collective social protection “. “In Quebec, it seems pretty clear that the priority should go to improving services offered to the elderly, whereas in Ottawa, it’d have to be employment insurance. “

The pessimistic scenario would be that, as soon as the crisis is over, we have to take fear by the magnitude of deficits and a return to the austerity policies of the past. “The window is closed, often very quickly. “

In Quebec, it seems pretty clear that the priority should go to improving services offered to the elderly, whereas in Ottawa, it should be employment insurance

— Alain Noël

The current crisis offers a ” natural laboratory “, but it is still too early to draw any lessons for the long term, ” observes Raquel Fonseca. Some lessons may, however, need to be put into practice very quickly, ” especially if other waves [of contamination] had to come in the next few months.”

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