IDA Accessibility: Learning More About Whether Individual Development Accounts Can Work for Canada’s Poor

Publication Year:
2007
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thesis / dissertation description
Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) or matched saving accounts are programs designed to facilitate the building of capital and assets in low-income households. Based on the model of asset-based welfare policy, these programs propose to combat poverty through inclusion of the poor in asset building opportunities, which traditionally have been available to only middle and upper income households. Described as an anti-poverty strategy, Individual Development Accounts are growing in international popularity with asset-based policies already being included in Canadian income assistance programs. In order to better understand what some of the barriers might be to this anti-poverty program structure, this thesis employed qualitative methods of inquiry to explore peoples’ experiences with Learn$ave and why they didn’t or couldn’t participate in this national pilot project.This thesis presents information that lends insight into the context and experience of Individual Development Accounts as part of today’s social policy framework. Critically examined through a social justice and empowerment lens, this research discusses the limitations to this market integration, human capital development approach to poverty reduction. The results of this study conclude that a lack of flexibility in the program structure and inadequacies in current Ontario social assistance systems were barriers to Learn$ave enrollment and continued participation. Based on these results, and an exploration of the literature this thesis argues that the neoliberal based values that influence Learn$ave’s structure present barriers to program inclusiveness. Grounded in this argument I conclude that Learn$ave does not adequately acknowledge nor address complex socio-political layers of poverty and systemic oppression and as a result does not reach the status of an effective anti-poverty strategy. Recommendations suggest that if Individual Development Accounts are going to be implemented more broadly they need to offer more opportunity for participant self-determination and must work in collaboration with income support systems to ensure that a comprehensive and supportive antipoverty strategy is developed.