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BC Politics

Government Defends Lack of Increases in Welfare, Disability Rates

Decision leaves recipients in ‘deep, deep poverty,’ says economist.

By Andrew MacLeod 23 Feb 2018 |

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

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Wait for poverty reduction plan, says Social Development Minister Shane Simpson. Photo from BC NDP.

While there were no increases to welfare or disability benefits in this week’s budget, other measures will help people in need, said the province’s minister of social development and poverty reduction.

“We’ve said all along that the poverty reduction strategy and the work we’re doing is a multi-ministry initiative,” said Shane Simpson.

“We put the better part of $5 billion into social investments in this budget, including child care, including housing, including reducing MSP, including around prescriptions, and of course the initiatives around the minimum wage. All of those are pieces that fit into the plan.”

On budget day, anti-poverty advocates criticized the government for failing to increase benefit levels. “We’re leaving the poorest British Columbians far behind,” said Trish Garner, a community organizer with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. “I’m disappointed the government chose not to prioritize the poorest folks in B.C.”

And Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the government shouldn’t wait to improve the benefits for people receiving assistance. “I think we could have found the money to help them right now,” she said. “It’s just deep, deep poverty.”

In its September budget update, the government raised welfare and disability rates by $100 a month, the first increase in a decade. An individual receiving welfare now gets $710 each month and a person on disability $1,133, with higher rates for couples and families.

Simpson didn’t directly answer whether the government will make future increases. “Added to the increases we put in place that commenced in October, we’re working on the plan now and the plan will fully roll out this year with legislation, and we’ll move forward with initiatives to work on poverty reduction at that time,” he said.

In October the government appointed a 28-person committee to provide advice on reducing poverty.

“Clearly income security, along with housing, along with creating opportunities, along with affordability, all of those are pretty critical pieces,” Simpson said. “There are legitimate issues obviously around income and affordability, whether it’s increasing people’s income or reducing their costs on essential goods and services, and those issues will be addressed in the plan.”

He said he was pleased with the progress in this week’s budget. “We haven’t seen a budget like this in over 20 years in this province,” he said. “It’s a budget that invests in critical affordability issues, housing, child care, supports across the board for seniors and others."

“I’m really proud of the budget. It’s why I got involved in politics, to be able to be involved in something like this.”  [Tyee]

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