The Child Benefits Debate, the Progressive Sector, and the Discourse on 'Social Exclusion'
Social policy and anti-poverty organizations and other social justice groups have long played a role in helping to shape public debate on social policy in Canada. Mobilizing under the theme of 'child poverty,' this sector was a major force in promoting reform of the child benefits system, albeit, within the confines of a targeting model. This paper explores the role and impact of the progressive sector in shaping the terms of child benefits in the recent period of late 1990s/early 2000s.
My central question is how have progressive actors responded to the newly emerged discourse on 'social exclusion'? While 'social exclusion' is increasingly being pronounced by international agencies and in general terms by the Canadian government, I ask whether and how this discourse is penetrating the more particular debate on child benefits. Has the concept of "social exclusion (or inclusion)" replaced "poverty" (child poverty) as a keyword in this policy debate, and what role has the progressive sector played in enacting such a shift? In what ways, for example, have progressive organizations contributed to shaping the concept of social exclusion? What are the potential implications of this shifting language for broadening the debate on child benefits to include a wider range of issues, options, and political actors, and leading to a more inclusive and socially just policy regime? The study will be based on an analysis of the recorded debates on child benefits as reflected in parliamentary committee hearings and pre-budget consultations, and interviews with key informants within the progressive community. In this paper, as in my previous work, I continue to explore how the marginalized opposition to neo-liberalism articulates its cause and to argue that the particular discursive/strategic choices of these actors do indeed make a difference in shaping the broader universe of social policy debate.
Wendy McKeen is assistant professor at the Maritime School of Social Work, Dalhousie University, Halifax, where she teaches social policy and welfare state politics. Her previous research focused on the role of the progressive sector in shaping the poverty/child benefits debate in Canada (Gendering Social Policy: The Feminist Voice in Poverty Debate in Canada, 1970 to 1995 , University of Toronto Press, forthcoming).
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