Government social assistance programmes are failing to protect the health of low-income populations: evidence from the USA and Canada (2003-2014)

Publication type
Journal article
Shahidi FV, Sod-Erdene O, Ramraj C, Hildebrand V, Siddiqi A
Date published
2019 Mar 01
Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health
Open Access?

BACKGROUND: Social policies that improve the availability and distribution of key socioeconomic resources such as income, wealth and employment are believed to present the most promising avenue for reducing health inequalities. The present study aims to estimate the effect of social assistance recipiency on the health of low-income earners in the USA and Canada. METHODS: Drawing on nationally representative survey data (National Health Interview Survey and the Canadian Community Health Survey), we employed propensity score matching to match recipients of social assistance to comparable sets of non-recipient 'controls'. Using a variety of matching algorithms, we estimated the treatment effect of social assistance recipiency on self-rated health, chronic conditions, hypertension, obesity, smoking, binge drinking and physical inactivity. RESULTS: After accounting for underlying differences in the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of recipients and non-recipients, we found that social assistance recipiency was associated with worse health status or, at best, the absence of a clear health advantage. This finding was consistent across several different matching strategies and a diverse range of health outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: From a public health perspective, our findings suggest that interventions are warranted to improve the scope and generosity of existing social assistance programmes. This may include reversing welfare reforms implemented over the past several decades, increasing benefit levels and untethering benefit recipiency from stringent work conditionalities