Unemployment Benefits Program for Self-Employed Canadians: Are Women Disadvantaged?

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Leslie NICHOLS, Ryerson University, Canada
Self-employment is growing in Canada, due in part to an increase in precarious employment and unemployment (Bahar and Liu 2015). Self-employed people experience the same work interruptions as those in standard jobs. Because they are not eligible for standard employment insurance benefits, the Government of Canada created the voluntary Special Benefits for Self-Employed Workers (SBSE) program in 2010 to provide support for five life events that interrupt work: giving birth, caring for a newborn or newly adopted child, personal illness or injury, caring for ill family members, and caring for a critically ill child. Enrollment in the SBSE program has been low. By 2014, only 14,000 self-employed workers had signed up for the program despite the government’s prediction of 500,000 enrollees (McGregor 2015).

People may be pushed into self-employment during periods of high unemployment (Bahar and Liu 2015) or due to barriers to obtaining standard employment, such as gender, age, immigrant status, language, disability, and childcare responsibilities. Those barriers create a subgroup of vulnerable people among the self-employed, characterized by multiple intersecting conditions that create socioeconomic disadvantage. This study seeks to understand the experience of marginalized self-employed people with the SBSE program in order to identify problems with the program and how they might be corrected to increase enrollment and equal access to benefits. I will interview 30 participants through semi-structured interviews. The study will contribute to public policy, labour studies, and women and gender studies to offer a new perspective on how to support self-employed workers during work interruptions.