The Liberal government have promised to make progressive changes to the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) in next week's budget.
Let's hope that they deliver. The increased insecurity of work and low hourly wages for many workers mean that many Canadians live in poverty even though they have a significant attachment to the paid work force.
The WITB is directed to the working poor, that is, individuals and families who have significant earnings, and sometimes even work full-time for a full year, but still live in poverty. About one half of all working age persons living in poverty have significant earnings.
Higher minimum wages in some provinces mean that a single person working full time for a full year will earn enough to be above the poverty line. But most of the working can only find part-time and insecure jobs, and need additional income support
The WITB currently delivers a meagre average benefit of just $807 per year, and the benefits for a single person are phased out once income passes a very low threshold of just $12,000, well below the poverty line.
The benefit should be significantly increased, and phased out at a much higher level of earnings.
The WITB was also intended to make work pay and to help people transition from social assistance. But just 8.8% of social assistance recipients get any benefit from the program.
Many social assistance recipients would like to work, but face multiple barriers such as loss of health and housing benefits and high claw back rates on every dollar of earnings. The WITB could help, but benefits are paid only after a long lag of up to one year.
The WITB could, together with decent minimum wages, help lift the working poor out of poverty.
But major changes are needed.
Andrew Jackson is Adjunct Research Professor in the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University, and senior policy adviser to the Broadbent Institute.
Read his complete paper on the Working Income Tax Benefit here.