Even Warren Buffet is saying, “Tax me!” So why do we think that people living in Vancouver can survive on $610 per month? In the most expensive City to live in North America (2013) singles on welfare get only $610.
It is 10 years since Raise the Rates was established (and joined CCEC), but we would prefer that there was no need for them to exist. If only our politicians would buy-in to a living wage for all residents, and agree that it is not acceptable that BC has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada. 800,000 British Columbians are living in poverty, and that 1 in 8 people are food insecure. Did you know that the poverty line in BC is around $1,500 a month?
Poverty is a political choice. We can afford to abolish poverty. We are the only province that doesn’t have a Poverty Reduction Strategy. Two recent polls showed that 78% of people in BC want a poverty reduction plan and the most important issue is poverty, housing, and homelessness. More British Columbians are having difficulty dealing with the increasing cost of living, and are compromising on our food choices as our real incomes have stagnated.(BIV Insights West BC Gov’t Report Card, May 2016). And, we know that hunger is a result of poverty. Are you surprised that at least half of the new Canadians (Syrian refugees), are using the Food Bank?
Basic welfare has been frozen at $610 a month since April 2007. Bill Hopwood, Organizer and Activist with Raise the Rates says, “Nine years ago, you could rent a crummy SRO in the Downtown Eastside for $375 a month, now the average cheapest rent is $517. Rents for the worst housing has increased $142 in 9 years, but no increase in welfare. After rent and other necessities, a person on welfare has $93 left each month to pay for food, clothing, hygiene, a phone and transit which means $10 a week for food. The cost of living index has gone up 15%.” At the recent Vancouver Food Summit held at Gordon Neighbourhood House, the panel on Poverty: What can food policy do? unanimously agreed that the Welfare Food Challenge, the annual event for Raise the Rates is impossible. You simply cannot eat a healthy diet living on welfare. In 2015, Kathy Romses, Dietician and Challenge Participant commented, “Social isolation was a challenge as meals with family and friends or meetings at the coffee shop were not an option. Trying to guard limited food doesn’t help build or maintain relationships with friends and family.”
For people with disabilities the government announced the first increase in 9 years on the rate of $906 – up by $77. That is not even half of what is needed to keep pace with inflation. BUT, they stole most of it back. They scrapped the free bus pass and now people have to pay $52 a month for the pass so the increase is only $25 a month. Compare BC with Alberta’s rate at $1,588 a month.
Poverty is a political choice.The government makes it as difficult as possible to even claim welfare - watch the video -
while being extra generous to very rich. Last year the government gave $227 million in tax cuts to the richest people in BC on top of the $billions they have already received in tax handouts. The minimum wage was increased by 20 cents an hour and no increase in welfare. Bill says, “The government chooses to feed the rich by starving workers and the poor.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Raise the Rates according to Bill is keeping their activists confident when they see the abject failure of politicians to take seriously raising welfare rates. Everyone in BC should live above the poverty line – we can afford it, it would make BC a much healthier place and in the medium term save money. Read the report from Policy Alternatives on the Cost of Poverty. How can politicians support policies that keep people in poverty? Yet, Bill say, “Can you tell me a politician who is advocating for welfare of $1,500 a month?”
Movements make change and we have to build public support to push politicians to act. Welfare Rates need to be Raised. Raise the Rates will continue to campaign.
JUSTICE not CHARITY. WE need a HAND UP not a HAND OUT. Isn’t it time we took a stand? 2017 is a Provincial election year. Get involved. Make your vote count.