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BC's Coleman balks at changing welfare system to fit tough times

To cope with tough economic times, the Ontario government is considering making it easier to qualify for welfare, but British Columbia won't be following any time soon.

Earlier this month the Toronto Sun reported that Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan is considering allowing people to apply for welfare before they sell their assets. "The asset rules really do penalize, in a sense, so we are looking at that as part of the overall poverty agenda and we'll have more to say about that in the coming weeks,” he was quoted saying.

Asked in an interview last week if B.C. would consider loosening welfare requirements, housing and social development minister Rich Coleman said, “We have no plans to change what we're doing.”

Coleman said the province is expecting an increasing number of people to qualify for welfare even without changing the requirements. “We do our actuarials to see if our budget's going to be affected and we know we'll probably have an increase in clients but we'll be able to handle it.”

He added, “We've raised the shelter allowance twice in the last couple years, and it seems to be working for us. We don't have anything in front of us that says we should change it.”

It's good the province has begun to spend more money on housing, said Seth Klein, the B.C. director for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, but it should also be fixing the welfare system so that it provides people with more stability.

“[The welfare system] creates homelessness, and then it goes out there and catches them,” he said. “We've pointed that out for some time.”

In 2006 the CCPA, along with the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group, published a study that found much of the drop in the province's welfare caseload and the increase in homelessness was due to changes the Liberal government made to eligibility rules in 2002.

Said Klein, “This will be the first recession we've entered into where welfare isn't an automatic stabilizer the way it once was. That's a problem.”

“There are certain things in the act that are objectionable, that do not provide fair process to people to access welfare,” said Jagrup Brar, the NDP's welfare critic.

Even in good times the rules that require a three week wait before a person can receive welfare and that limit a person to receiving help for two years out of five needed to be changed, he said. “Those are areas we don't think are fair to people who need to access welfare . . . Those things certainly need to be reviewed.”

In related news, yesterday's throne speech pledged there would be no increase to the minimum wage and finance minister Colin Hansen donated $4,000 to the Salvation Army for running shoes

The message appears clear: people in need should be looking more to charity than to the government for help.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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