Income Programs and Social Rights and Wrongs

Michael J. Prince
Remarks for the Human Rights and Persons with Intellectual Disabilities Conference
Niagara Falls, Canada
April 22, 2010

Slide 1

Social rights & citizenship

  • These terms have public meaning and political significance in Canada
  • Full citizenship is a core objective and key message of the disability movement
  • Social programs, such as health care, seen as contributing to national identity and sense of belonging

Slide 2

My purposes

  • To place rights and citizenship at the centre of our analysis of income security policy
  • To explore what “a culture of rights, respect, and responsibilities” might look like in social policy and for people with disabilities in Canada

Slide 3

What are social rights?

“… social rights are … concerned with establishing the material and cultural conditions for social inclusion and participation, such that the “social self” may develop.”
(F. Twine, Citizenship and Social Rights: The Interdependence of Self and Society, London: Sage, 1994, p. 11)

Slide 4



  • How are rights, respect, and responsibilities talked about in connection with citizenship?
  • In Canada, what model of social rights is contained in income security programs for persons with disabilities?
  • What are the effects of income programs for people with disabilities and other groups in society?

Slide 5

Relation between the 3 R’s and political ideologies


  • Liberalism
  • Social welfare


  • Social democratic
  • Communitarian


  • Civic republicanism
  • Neo-conservatism/Neo-liberalism

Slide 6

Three concepts of social citizenship

  • Classical – writings since 1940s on the emergence and development of welfare states around the western world
  • Critical – critiques of the welfare state and social policies, since 1970s, from divergent view points
  • Contextual – an emergent perspective that argues citizenship is best understood in specific time periods and concrete policies and program experiences

Slide 7

Classical vision of social citizenship

  • Rights to a state guaranteed minimum of economic welfare and security through an array of public services and benefits
  • Respect as formal equality of status among community members to live “the civilized life according to prevailing societal standards
  • Responsibilities noted but not emphasized as much as entitlements

Slide 8

Critical: two divergent streams

  • Rights as passive benefits from the state, and have been overemphasized at the expense of responsibilities
  • Respect, for some, as respect by individuals to uphold society’s rules and values; for others, concerns over stigma, client-hood
  • Responsibilities as personal obligations, self-reliance and family duties; for others, it is a weak expression of collective responsibility for marginalized and oppressed groups

Slide 9

Contextual approach

  • Rights in social programs have both active and passive elements
  • Respect – the degree and quality of respect that exists is a question to be investigated, not assumed to be present or absent
  • Responsibilities are actually embedded in benefit and service systems, and typically enforced by administrators, health personnel, supervisors and front line workers

Slide 10

Principles for entitlement to income programs

  • Need due to inadequate resources as a result of impairments
  • Work performance and earnings
  • Residence or legal citizenship status
  • Dependents within a family
  • Military service
  • Educational pursuits

Slide 11

The primary image of citizen in income policy

  • The paid worker/problematic body
  • Social rights earned through working in the regular labour force and paying premiums/taxes
  • Adult body becomes impaired and thus difficult to sustain labour force participation
  • Income benefits potentially from CPP Disability, Employment Insurance, Workers’ compensation or a Veteran’s pension

Slide 12

Implications for persons with intellectual disabilities

  • Connection to social rights, respect and responsibilities, through Canada’s income security system, is complicated, patchy and unsatisfactory
  • Income support is delivered mainly through provincial welfare systems
  • Systems characterized by stigma, inadequate benefits, complicated rules and, at times, ill-trained and insensitive staff
  • The image here is of a struggling client rather than a social citizen

Slide 13


  • No single model of social citizenship in Canadian politics or social policy
  • Concepts of rights, respect, and responsibilities linked with distinct streams of political beliefs
  • Income programs bring about social wrongs and social rights, exclusions and inclusions, insecurity and security
  • The result: an impoverished culture of rights, respect, and responsibilities for Canadians with intellectual disabilities and their families


Thank you

Michael J. Prince
Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy
Faculty of Human and Social Development
University of Victoria

Please visit our Research Alliance project
“Disabling Poverty and Enabling Citizenship”