Study to evaluate effect of welfare cheque distribution on drug use

published on September 23, 2014 by Cheryl Chan in The Vancouver Sun

“Welfare Wednesday” phenomenon puts heavy load on police and emergency services

A new study will examine whether changing the release date of welfare cheques could reduce the increase in drug use and overdoses seen on the last Wednesday of the month.

“There is a cyclical peak every month during cheque issue days,” said Lindsey Richardson, assistant sociology professor at the University of BC “What we are trying to find out is if changing the timing and possibly the frequency could lead people to use less and cause less of a spike in community-harm levels.”

The province – like most jurisdictions in North America – issues income-assistance cheques in one monthly lump sum, on the last Wednesday of the month. Front-line workers and numerous studies have found drug use spikes on this day.

The two-year randomized controlled trial will start recruiting more than 300 participants next March. Participants’ cheques will be deposited directly to an account at Pigeon Park Savings for six months. Some will get their monthly payment on days other than Welfare Wednesday; some will get their funds bi-weekly; others will stay on the existing schedule.

Richardson believes it will be the first study to evaluate the implications of cheque distribution schedules on drug-related harm.

Staggering payments may also reduce high-risk drug use and the number of overdoses, said Richardson. At the very least, it will spread out demand for police and emergency health care services, which are stretched thin around Welfare Wednesdays.

“Everyone getting paid on the same day, the drug dealers and debt collectors converge,” said Russell Maynard, harm-reduction co-ordinator at PHS Community Services. “That will be a lot harder if there is a staggered approach.”

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