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After 10 Year Freeze, New NDP Government Raises Welfare Rates

$100 bump to income assistance coming this September. Advocates say it’s still not enough.

Katie Hyslop 20 Jul 2017TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee’s education and youth reporter. Find her previous stories here.

A $100-per-month welfare and disability increase announced by the New Democratic Party government today wasn’t unexpected, but is nevertheless disappointing to anti-poverty advocacy group Raise the Rates, says spokesperson Kell Gerlings.

The rate increase was promised in the NDP campaign platform in the recent provincial election and echoed by the BC Liberals shortly before they lost a non-confidence vote in late June, felling their government.

The increase comes 10 years after welfare rates were last increased, bringing a single person’s monthly rate up to $710 per month from $610. Disability rates were increased by $127 per month for a single person in the last year, and now the NDP increase brings a single person’s monthly disability rate up to $1,133. The increase will kick in on Sept. 20.

As of May 2017, there were 69,842 individuals on welfare and another 121,577 on disability assistance in B.C.

Both programs would need to pay people at least $1,500 per month in order to reach Statistics Canada’s 2010 B.C. Market Basket Measure rate, a tool used to calculate the income required to afford a basic standard of living based on the cost of goods and services, Gerlings said.

“[The $100 is] the absolute least that [Premier John] Horgan and the NDP could do,” Gerlings said.

“They say they’re committed to having a poverty reduction strategy and want to go through a whole bunch of consultations about it. The problem is we know what the answer is, we know what the numbers need to be, and those just need to happen.”

The most recent study of Single Room Occupancy hotel rental rates in Vancouver shows the average rent is $548 per month, much higher than the $375 housing allowance portion of welfare and disability rates, Gerlings noted.

After paying rent and a damage deposit, individuals have less than $5 per day to cover food, transportation, clothing, phone, and other essentials.

A press release issued by Horgan’s office this afternoon acknowledged B.C.’s title for highest poverty rate in the country. With the increase, B.C. will have the third-highest assistance rates in Canada.

Mentioning the promised poverty reduction plan, the press release credited the newly formed Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction for enabling the increase.

But while advocates with Raise the Rates are pleased government is taking policy seriously, they’re debating whether to grant the new government much slack when it comes to improving the lives of B.C.’s poorest residents, Gerlings said.

One thing is certain: next year’s Welfare Food Challenge will take place. The annual event put on by Raise the Rates encourages local celebrities and MLAs to live on a single person’s welfare budget for one month in order to draw attention to provincial poverty rates.

In 2012 Surrey-Fleetwood NDP MLA Jagrup Brar became the second provincial politician in the event’s then-25-year history to take the challenge, following in the footsteps of former NDP MLA Emery Barnes who took the first challenge in 1986. By the end of the month, Brar had lost nine pounds.

Gerlings said they were considering not running the challenge next year if rates weren’t increased above $610 per month and SRO rates didn’t decrease, because people would be living on less than $2 a day.

“It was super unethical for us to ask volunteers to do that,” she said. “And yet people are living on that every single day.”  [Tyee]

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