Insight Out: Navigating Multiple Systems While Living on Low Income by Prof. Amber Gazso


LA&PS Professors received more than $2 million in 2020 Insight Grants from SSHRC. Keep reading the #LAPSInsightOut series to learn more about the amazing research happening in our Faculty.

Amber Gazso

Amber Gazso

Professor Amber Gazso from the Department of Sociology is a recipient of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant worth $150,738 this year for her project titled “The Systems of Our Lives: Navigating Multiple Systems While Living on Low Income.” Her areas of interest span across studies of gender, citizenship, family relations, research methods, social policy, and poverty.

The origins of her research began five years ago while Gazso was undertaking research projects on individuals’ lived experiences of managing low income and heard participants’ stories about their relationships with the child welfare system and the addictions and mental health system.

Her research involves three regions in Ontario: Toronto, London, and Niagara. It aims to understand low income individual’s lived experiences within current systems. This includes social assistance through Ontario Works (OW), mental health and addiction systems, the criminal justice system, and the child welfare system.

While Professor Gazso is the principal investigator on the project, she is joined by an expert team including social work professors Tracy Smith-Carrier and Carrie Smith from King’s College at Western University, and Stephanie Baker Collins from McMaster University. Michelle Brait, Manager, and Dean Herd, Policy Development Officer, both with Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS) will also assist in the project.

Previous research collaborations and studies conducted by TESS have shown that many people using OW experience multiple barriers to employment such as addiction, mental and physical health challenges, raising young children, and ongoing or previous contact with the criminal justice system or child welfare system. Professor Gazso and her team will use qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews with caseworkers and participants to detail these experiences.

The research team will share their findings with Toronto, London, and Niagara-regional OW offices to help improve current programming and practice. They also plan to conduct one major multi-site workshop in Toronto to share knowledge among social assistance jurisdictions and seek consensus about the broader policy implications of the findings. Following this, there will also be a workshop in each of the three research sites with OW program administrators and caseworkers to share findings that may inform future casework practices in each region.

The project will examine the experience and effect of navigating multiple systems on persons living on low incomes. The broader significance of this research is to uncover the ‘taken for granted zones’ where the lives of marginalized populations are affected most. The research will detail the experiences of meeting expectations to receive benefits each month, reentering the community, and living with low income. It is something that no project to date has unveiled all at once. Ultimately, it will showcase how lives are shaped by living with the constraints and expectations of multiple systems.