This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Welfare rates are starvation rates

THIS WEEK’S TOPIC: Should the B.C. government raise welfare rates?

Most of you likely woke up in a nice, warm bed today, then headed off to a warm shower and a quick breakfast before work. You will probably have a good lunch and many of you will either stop at the grocery store tonight on the way home, or stop to pick up take-out food.

Your life is full of choices.

For thousands of British Columbian’s on social assistance — including many who read our weekly columns — choice isn’t an option, and sometimes eating isn’t either.

Hardest hit without a doubt are the single men and women who have to live on $610 a month while trying to get back on their feet.

Last week, Vancouver-based musician Bif Naked announced she will be taking part in this year’s Welfare Food Challenge. For one week, she’ll have to survive on whatever she can buy for $21.

According to Raise the Rates, after deducting rent, transit tickets, room deposit and laundry-hygiene funds from the $610 monthly payment, approximately $84 is left for food for the month, or $21 a week. It’s a pittance and nearly impossible to buy nutritious food, let alone enough of anything to keep your body properly sustained.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

Former MLA Jagrup Brar found this out in 2012 when he took the challenge and lived for 30 days on the single-person rate. He lost 26 pounds and discovered why it’s so hard to get off social assistance once you get on – people are dragged into a vicious cycle that’s nearly impossible to overcome.

Most people think they can get a job easily enough, then discover how hard it is without reliable access to food, showers, and finding clothes suitable for interviews. Just surviving day to day is a struggle insurmountable to some, which is why the cycle continues…

Read the rest of this week’s column, vote and comment at http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2014/10/05/welfare-rates-are-starvation-rates:I

26 thoughts on “This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Welfare rates are starvation rates

  1. Raising rates is not the answer. As mentioned before, I worked in the DTES for four years (and countless other ‘welfare’ situations). Every time the rates were raised the rooming houses raised their rates and ate up the difference. And most of the money left is spent on getting high. The worst of the recipients live off the ‘soup lines’, food banks, charities and the proceeds from minor petty offenses. Money is NOT the tool they need. Some recipients are administered meaning that a social worker pays the rent and buys food and keeps the temptation of too much cash-on-hand impossible (as if $610 didn’t do that). And for a few ‘dim bulbs’ that works. But, for most of the recipients (single ones, anyway) this will surprise you: they aren’t ON welfare very long. Admittedly the study I did was years ago but only about 3-4% were liars (claiming welfare when they had jobs or making more than one claim) and about 75% of them were OFF and OUT after less than six months. The stereotypical lifer was in the minority then and likely raised in a similar welfare family. Welfare is NOT just the single mom or the damaged-at-work-screwed-over-by-Worksafe (in the old days there were a lot of those). Welfare is for transients, mental-health patients, youth that were ‘dumped’ by the very same ‘welfare’ system when they became of age regardless of their abilities and for those now too-addicted to ever work again. These people are the by-product of a society that sees money as a solution. It isn’t. There is only one way and we are not prepared to do it – and that is a therapeutic community. If you can’t or won’t get the community to accept and support these people at a much more intense level, they are lost. It is that simple.

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    1. Scotty on Denman

      Couple points: first, there is rarely “only one way” about anything except in opinion. Food vouchers instead of cash (to prevent misdirection away from nourishment) and rent controls (to prevent landlords from absorbing money intended for food through rent increases) are just two that come immediately to mind. Second, the situation in Vancouver, one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, is, in provincial context, an anomaly; $610 a month is also difficult for rural or small-town people who find themselves in penury—and there are probably more of those people to come as the resource sector’s busts outnumber booms. Third, the conditions that drive penury are complex, not “that simple”; for example, the provincial government is largely responsible for welfare (although some municipalities fund affordable housing policies themselves and, of course, there are food banks everywhere nowadays), but is also indirectly responsible for welfare-resulting unemployment in mill towns because of its job-destroying raw-log export policy; it’s never “that simple”. Finally, “the community” and “these people” is us, every BC citizen; it doesn’t help any of us to accept anyone becoming “lost”.

      Sure, there are some, especially in the DTES, who would use extra money to get high, but I think, by and large, improving nutrition for welfare recipients would help them directly to get back on their feet, if they’re able, or to stay healthy and out of hospital (which costs us all large) if they are not able-bodied. Anyone can fall on hard times and need social help, so its prejudicial to characterize all or any of them by the foibles of a few. And that’s the only simple thing about it.

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  2. 40% of the homeless are comprised of former youth-in-care with the Ministry! Think about that! And you know how many are mentally challenged and no longer able to access large institutional care like Riverview offered. These people were directly marginalized, if not victimized, by us – through our government’s/institutions innate incompetence and lack of humanity. And why is the government so inhumane and incompetent? Because they try to satisfy social problems with blanket policies, inflexible regulations, police and money. No one loves and supports another human being properly with just money and robot-like relationships and that is all they ever got – and that is all they ever see as a solution. Like they see drugs. In other words: more of the same will not work.

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  3. Julie

    The poor in this province have never fared well. The highest number of children living in poverty. The highest number of children, going to school hungry. The $8.00 per hour minimum wage for years.

    There is also rampant price gouging in this province, that goes unchecked. The cost of food is outrageous. Hydro through the roof. I guess this is a part of, Christy’s families first.

    I believe many pets eat better than people on Social Assistance. At $610 per month, I doubt that many of them even have, $21.00 per week for food. They likely have to rely on Food Banks, that just can’t keep up. Food Banks have special appeals for donations and their situation, becomes worse every day.

    The apples on my side of the fence, my neighbor has given to me. Apples go to the Food Bank, along with vegetables from my garden. That is only a pittance, the need is so vast. In winter it’s case lot food.

    Yet millions of our tax dollars are for, bogus job and economic action plans. And, that is only the tip of the iceberg. In BC, government greed, big business and the wealthy, always come first. The poor, will just keep right on suffering. They are the throw, under the bus people.

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  4. e.a.f.

    of course rates need to be raised. We have had plenty of e.g.s. of people living on “welfare disability pensions” who just can’t get by i.e. feed and house themselves and their children. single people who can no longer work and qualify for a disability pension are given $908 per month. Those who are not disabled receive about $600. No one can live on that amount of money with any dignity. In a country as rich as ours, that ought to be a crime.

    Christy Clark and her b.c. lieberals won’t even permit children, whose parent is in receipt of disability, to keep even one nickel of the support payments the non custodial .parent makes. That leaves the child living at 50% below the poverty line. Christy Clark sees nothing wrong with this. Don McRae sees nothing wrong with this, and neither does the rest of the b.c. lieberals. Nothing will change.

    We could have doctors examine all the children in B.C. forced to live like this; issue reports the children suffered from malnutrition in some form or another. We could flash it on news boards across the world, but nothing would change. Christy does not care, the b.c. lieberals don’t care, the majority who voted in the last provincial election don’t care.

    Christy says she needs that $17 Million she mines out of the pockets of the children, living at 50% below the poverty line, each year. She needs it so she can give it to the oil and gas industry. Wasn’t it just recently, like a few months ago, she gave the LNG industry another $116 Million subsidy?

    There are many social problems which result in people living on “welfare”. These don’t get half the attention they need. Most of these people don’t vote so it is doubtful Christy Clark and her b.c. lieberals will care what happens to them. Christy Clark and her b.c. lieberals care about people who own the oil/gas industry in B.C. They get the money. How much? In 2005/6 the B.C. government earned, from oil/gas, about $3.2 Billion a year. By 2011/12 this had fallen to $500 Million. It is important to note during those years production of oil/gas INCREASED. The province lost almost $2 Billion in revenue, by letting oil/gas keep money. On the other hand, those kids, had to come up with $17 Million, even though they live at 50% below the poverty line. We could have people dying in the streets of hunger, cold, disease and Christy Clark would just come out and give us her ususal, “families first; we are going to grow the economy so everybody can have jobs; we will grow the economy and we will make trillions of dollars in “sparkle ponies”.

    In another few weeks charities all over the province will begin asking for donations so children and “deserving adults” can have a nice Christmas. People will donate and go back to sleep. If any of them wonder why they need to donate, well go back and read Ms. Yuile’s column.

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  5. Les

    Having first hand experience with our social web this year, I would like to clarify the Public’s perceptions of some who are receiving benefits. My son is battling brain cancer and unable to work as a result; Pharmacare does not cover all medications needed for treatment, (methadone yes, Anti-seisiure no ) His hopefully temporary support barely covers his bills, so now living at home he must depend on Family to supplement his uncovered additional medical expenses of over $100.00/mon. I am sure there are many in a similar situation who must find a way to just survive on what they receive. Perhaps having to chose between Medication or food should be added to the challenge Bif is willing to accept ? Raising the rate is certainly needed by those who genuinely need support for whatever reason. Also Kudo’s to the staff , who do an amazing job in very difficult conditions under this Government regime.

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    1. Laila

      Les, thank you for sharing your story-my thoughts will be with you and your son. There are a lot of different reasons people turn to assistance and illness is one. Painting everyone with the same brush as lazy slackers doesn’t solve the issues and does a dis-service to those in genuine need.

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      1. Forgive me if it seemed as if I was doing that – painting recipients as lazy slackers – the exact opposite was my intention. I do not blame even a drug addict in his 20’s for collecting welfare if he/she emerged from the government’s so-called youth-in-care system. Nor do I begrudge anyone $610 a month even if they abuse the money. My point is that money is NOT the answer for those people (even tho it may be for otherwise more capable people temporarily in trouble). What we need is a commitment to full-on support from real people doing real things rather than institutions going through the motions. Like the private sponsor groups do for refugees. In effect, our own marginalized people are refugees-of-a-domestic-kind. Our society thinks money is the answer to everything – lose a leg and the insurance company gives you money. People are ill so people donate money. Even tho money is necessary in a capitalist system, it is an inadequate salve to a human in need. Money has no heart, no compassion, no inspiration. You can’t even eat money! Put another way: money is number five on the list people-in-need USUALLY require. Sorry about not being clear…..if I was.

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  6. r

    Cant you see

    multi billion dollar bridges are the priority ,in BC,not broth.?3 billion Massey next- 3000 million dollars.
    Its amazing how the narrative has changed since winning election office in BC.
    By hook or by crook?

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  7. nonconfidencevote

    The money is available. If the Govt would just stop wasting it on more govt beaurocracy. More govt staff, more wages, pensions, health care and golf????????
    Yup, Burnaby city mayor and council members have billed $44,000.00 for free golf so far this year.
    Nice.
    And the sense of entitlement grows in govt and their employees with each passing day……..
    These people dont deserve half their salary let alone the golden pensions, and benefits they pillage from the tax payers.
    Scum that dont deserve anyone’s vote.

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    1. Laila

      It’s an issue when anyone mis-uses the public funds or the public trust.The Liberals have done a good job of creating a lot of cynicism in the province imo, along with the federal Conservatives.

      I would like to see if there is a co-relation between the reduction in the number of people off welfare since they came into power, and the increase in homelessness and property crimes.

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  8. e.a.f.

    Jay, how could you suggest people be given that much money so they can live in dignity? Go stand in the corner! Don’t you know the lng/oil AND gas companies desperately need all that money. Those on $950 a month would only squander it on housing, food, clothing, electricity and heat. If we give the money to corporate elites they can increase their profit margins and move the money out of Canada. They might even give some of it to the B.C. Lieberal party as donations, with a tax receipt of course.

    single people on a disability pension receive $908 per month. Out of that they have to pay all their expenses. Being forced to live like this has driven some people to the edge of suicide. Even in areas where rents are lower, people can’t survive. They can’t pay their prescriptions. They can’t pay for new glasses. They can’t afford to go to the dentist. Some of these people worked for 30 yrs or more and through no fault of their own, can’t work anymore. They got sick, they had accidents, etc. Christy Clark and her caucus don’t care about these people.

    Christy Clark and Don McRae demonstrated that very clearly back in the spring sitting, when Horgan introduced a woman and her child sitting in the gallery. She was disabled. She was on one of those “glorified provincial pensions’. She and her child were living at 50% below the poverty rate. yet they were not permitted to keep one nickel of the child support the father paid each month. No the provincial budget needed that money. It is a disgrace. Clark and McRae refused to change anything and said it while the woman and child sat in the gallery. They said to their faces, we don’t care if you don’t have enough to eat, we want our $17 M. a yr we collect from all of you. On the other hand oil/gas has received another $116 M. this yr and between 2005/6 to 2011/12 oil/gas received an additional couple of billion.

    Some one ought to take Christy clark and her cluckers to court for child abuse and child neglect. I’d chip in for the legal fees. The case might not go far, but it would certainly get some real attention. “Canadian provincial premier taken to court for child abuse and neglect.”

    Christie Clark and her caucus just keeps saying they need to “grow the economy” so they can provide social services or people don’t need them. She forgets some people will never be able to work but they do need to live in dignity.

    M.L.A. all receive $12, thousand per year In housing allowance. No receipts required. Don’t have to be in Victoria all year. Leg. only has to sit the required min. All the M.L.A.S still receive the money for their housing allowance. Disabled people on provincial pensions aren’t even given that much to live on for a year.

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    1. Jay Jones

      “Christie Clark and her caucus just keeps saying they need to “grow the economy” so they can provide social services”

      That’s like a Mom telling her children, “Don’t worry kids, it’s only insects for nourishment until Jesus shows up with the bread and wine”

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  9. CC is a bad, selfish little opportunist with the mindset of Marie-Antoinette. No doubt. But she is as bad as she is partly because she believes in a rotten system that she has done so well by. Who wouldn’t be a booster for a system that gives what it gives her and with so little to warrant it? But we should look past her and her vapid cheerleader idiocy. We have to look to us. It has always been left to the ‘people’ to lead for change. See Hong Kong. See the man with the shopping bags in Tienanmen square in 1989. They are the real game-changers. Our leaders follow polls and chequebooks and the dictates of corporations. REAL people make REAL changes. People like Laila when she is on her game (and even when she isn’t). It was Rosa Parkes and MLK who changed the way blacks are regarded. It was Rachel Carson who woke us up to pollution. These are NOT politicians feeding from the trough. Ghandi. Nelson Mandela. Cesar Chavez. David Suzuki. YOU want change? Then do it. You care about welfare recipients? Then do something. When people cared about refugees, they formed sponsor groups and they did something. Us? Today? We don’t even vote.
    “Waddabout you, JDC? Waddabout you?” I gave it a shot. I did some stuff. I even ran. But I did not hit any homeruns. Not even a base hit to be honest. Barely got a piece of it and swung out of my shoes trying. So, when old age slipped up behind me, I left the forum to the rats and it seems they are feasting and multiplying like mad.

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  10. e.a.f.

    ah and in the middle of this Christy Clark, her advanced minister of education, or is that minister of advanced education are off to India, with 69 of their nearest and dearest corporate friends. A worll wind tour of 3 major India cities, for about 9 days. Can’t be feeding those people on disability or kids living at 50% below the poverty line. we need to go to India, stay in first class hotels, get room service. Perhaps her premierness can exceed her room service bill of $700 for one breakfast, while in India. Oh, nothing is too good for her premierness and anything is too much for the disabled and kids at 50% below the poverty line.

    There won’t be any raise in welfare or disability pension rates. Every $ is needed by her premierness and friends so they can travel the world all at tax payers expense. How lovely it is. Next time you go to vote, remember this.

    What is the difference between Christy Clark and Allison Redford?

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  11. Me

    I have been on either hardship or regular welfare since Jan. 2014 (both pay $375 shelter [rent, utilities] and $235 support [everything else] total $610) because – despite working for one employer 24/7/365 (yes, I got paid while sleeping etc.), E.I. has denied me benefits after being laid off. I have been fighting E.I.’s decision since it was made in January.

    It is NOT free money. It is onerous to get and keep and there isn’t enough money. I get donated bread and have gotten loans from a pawnbroker on everything of value I own. Since Shaw’s internet rate increase of almost 45% in the last two years (can’t remember exactly when it was), I now pay about $70/mo. plus tax for what I got for $45 a month not long ago. I’m now three or four months in arrears and have been disconnected.

    My phone bill is $25 a month for a basic cell plan without data – recently I had to go a month without service. Last cheque day I was able to buy a month’s service but I can’t use it because my phone not only has no display (that happened about 4 months ago) but the battery no longer holds a charge (the phone is a used Blackberry I bought about 18 months ago). I can fix it myself – I’m a computer tech and handy at repairing anything – but a battery and display are $20 each and I have to disassemble the phone to discover which one of three displays it takes. For $40 I can buy a used phone of similar quality – but I don’t have $40. Hopefully the one I get will be unlocked or locked to Rogers – otherwise it’ll be more money to unlock it.

    I took some training through Open Door Group for a different job. I couldn’t get funded for upgrading my computer skills as since my E.I. claim status was undecided, ODG didn’t know whether training funding for me would come from provincial money or federal money.

    Part of the training was a Basic Security Training Level One course. ODG or welfare wouldn’t assist me with lunch cards (they had for other courses), yet I met a man living in my neighbourhood who got them for the exact same course.

    I have now gotten employment with the company I took the training for, but it is on call. They can’t call me for shifts because I don’t have a phone. I asked welfare for a grant to buy a used phone to get me off of it faster, but the worker said they don’t give grants for that – only for food and clothing.

    Both my pairs of shoes have holes in the soles and now with the wet weather I’m blowing holes in my socks. It’s $70 to do a good job of resoling those good quality shoes and the repair would probably last a couple of years. Yes, I could buy $20 or $30 shoes from the Army & Navy – if they have them in my size – but they’d probably last four to six months.

    I’d like to date and can always find interesting free events to go to but am continually embarrassed by my lack of money – I can’t even afford to buy a cup of coffee. The feelings of worry and stress when friends or family ask me to join them in an activity because of not having any money at all are tough to deal with. I live in the DTES but cannot afford the bus fare to visit my dad in Richmond of my brother in Burnaby. I walk a lot.

    I’ll be off welfare soon, but not as soon as I could have been, and the hit on my mental health has been significant. I’ve had depressive episodes for my adult life and trying to keep my spirits up after recovering from the episode brought on by my layoff has been difficult.

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    1. Occasionally, while working in the DTES, I would encounter an individual that was caught between the rock and hard place described above and the Ministry’s inflexibility on such matters was insane. Once I paid the pawn ticket for a logger’s boots and saw and related junk and bought a bus ticket for him (I believed his story) to get out of twon after a too-long bender and so Welfare got ‘rid’ of a client by dumping the responsibility on me. I also recall dropping a $100 or so every once in awhile when a ‘client’ had an extraordinary problem or debt that I believed. Usually a ‘mugging’ that took the balance of their measly money. And I still do. But here’s the main message: in over 4 years of being a personal bank, I was only stiffed once. For $5.00. Only one guy didn’t pay it back. So, there are TRUE hard-done-by stories and there is no logic or heart to the Ministry and so sometimes it falls to the nearest human being to lend a real helping hand. Still – for the record – there were fewer of those stories by far. One in a thousand.

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      1. nonconfidencevote

        I’ve known several people that lived in “commonlaw” relationships. One worked at a minimum wage job , one drew welfare as a single person. I’m sure it happens more often than not.
        I didnt begrudge them their existance because they weren’t living “high on the hog” by any means. Eventually they both had jobs.
        Welfare as a “place of last resort” wouldnt be something I’d wish on my worst enemy (well, maybe my WORST enemy). But with the amount of substance abuse and mentally disturbed individuals living on the DTES I have to wonder sometimes at the futility of current social programs and if there needs to be a complete revamp of the system. Cause the status quo sure doesnt seem to be working.

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  12. workforfun

    All of my adult working life I have had a decent job. The times between jobs have varied but have mostly been my choices. I am now retired (9 years) and make do with what I have.

    I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to deal with government BS and EI rules. I suspect some of the problems come from people wielding a little bit of power. It seems that when people are really down on their luck, government does nothing to alleviate or help.

    BC Liberal government is definitely a major cause of the current situation – they have had well over a decade to make improvements to welfare, but instead have made things markedly worse. Some of the blame can be attributed to the Federal Conservative government as well.

    My heart goes out to people like Me who has to fight tooth and nail to exist. It is no surprise that so many people have depressive tendencies. I am sure there are people that really do abuse the system and probably live quite well. However it is the less fortunate that suffer the most – and that includes the huge number of children living below the poverty line, that BC provincial government does not even want to acknowledge.

    The comments of this post should be mandatory reading for everyone out there – including the provincial and federal governments.

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  13. Pingback: Welfare food challenge - Recovery, a concurrent disorder perspective

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