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BC NDP's proposed $20 welfare raise 'won't tackle poverty,' says advocate

The BC New Democratic Party's proposal to raise income assistance rates by $20 a month will do nothing to help people living in poverty, said Bill Hopwood, an organizer with the advocacy group Raise the Rates.

"Twenty dollars a month, it's just going to vanish," said Hopwood. Most of it will go to higher rents, amounting to a subsidy for landowners, he said. "It won't tackle poverty one iota."

NDP Leader Adrian Dix announced the increase in welfare rates this morning as part of his party's platform to reduce child poverty and inequality. The current monthly rate for a single person in the expected to work category is $610. Rates have been frozen since 2007. The NDP plan would, after the initial increase, raise the rates to keep up with inflation.

Dix made the announcement in Vancouver-Langara, the constituency held by BC Liberal Social Development Minister Moira Stilwell. The plan included doubling to $400 the amount of money a person receiving income assistance is allowed to earn before their assistance from the government is reduced, strengthening Community Living BC and adding front line staff to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The biggest part of the announcement, however, is a $210 million a year commitment to a B.C. Family Bonus that would provide up to $829 a year for each child younger than 18 years old. The full amount would go to families where the annual income is under $25,000 and would be phased out for households earning more than $66,000.

An NDP backgrounder on the plan stresses the party's plan would apply to children up to the age of 18, while the BC Liberals' program only applies to children under six years old.

Hopwood said adjustments to the welfare system should be made as part of a broader poverty reduction strategy that also includes things like support for social housing.

Raising the earnings exemption and providing the family bonus are positive steps, he said. It's telling that the bulk of the help is going to families with children, he said. "There's an element of the deserving poor and undeserving poor, (the) old Victorian argument, in there probably."

Raise the Rates has been campaigning to get all the parties to commit to raising welfare rates. "I think it's fair to say the welfare increase is a disappointment, to put it mildly," he said, noting $20 works out to well less than $1 per day. "It almost needs doubling. To bring it up to the government's poverty line would mean doubling welfare."

He mentioned studies such as one from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that point out that any money saved on supporting people in poverty leads to more strain on other parts of the budget such as health, education and the justice system.

"Fixing it is cheaper than leaving the problem," said Hopwood. "You need to argue that broader picture, rather than a tweak here or a tweak there."

About one out of nine British Columbians lives in poverty, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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