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  Themes — Social Services & Community

Many people feel that our society is on the verge of significant change. The foundations of the welfare state have been eroding. Those who depend on that system fear it will disappear. Others, who feel the system works only to marginalize them, see an opportunity to build something better.

If the welfare state is crumbling, what will take its place? How will changes affect society? How will we prepare for the transformation that seems already to have begun?

Philia is looking for answers to these questions. We believe one answer lies in challenging communities to welcome and encourage the contributions of people who have traditionally been marginalized.

Historically, many people have faced formidable barriers to participation, leaving many at the mercy of the welfare system and government care agencies. But when everyone is welcomed into communities and given all the rights and responsibilities of full citizens, communities will be strengthened, neighbourhoods enlivened and social institutions revitalized.

People who have been marginalized have valuable perspectives on community and citizenship to lend to a discussion on social policy.


People who live on the margins of the economy participate largely through the mechanism of the welfare state. That system has a solid foundation in human rights and compassion, but is not without problems. Presently, we see two weaknesses:

First, funding for welfare and social services is threatened. Governments complain that globalization has made it tougher to pull money out of the economy for redistribution. Changing demographics are putting added pressure on resources, especially as Baby Boomers near retirement. Debt servicing constrains spending, while governments are increasingly forced to spend more on new costs such as environmental protection. Resources for social services are perceived to be scarce.

At the same time, advocates are realizing that the welfare state actually prevents some people from enjoying the rights and responsibilities of full citizenship. Despite its good intentions, the social service system inadvertently works to marginalize some people even further. That’s because the system focuses on overcoming personal deficiencies while generally ignoring the contributions that people with disabilities can make. These people can contribute and they want their contributions to be recognized—although sometimes contributions might take place outside of the formal economy.

Our social service system has become a "needs-based" system: fixating on the needs and problems of people with disabilities rather than their capabilities and contributions. This has led to an over-reliance on managerial intervention and paid relationships. The system has created a class of social service clients rather than citizens.

When marginalized people are unable to make contributions to society, everyone loses. The community loses economic and social benefits, while excluded people drift into poverty, isolation, loneliness and increased dependence on the social service system.


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