East Van to MLA Sultan: Raising Welfare Rates 'Opposite of Dead End'

Mount Pleasant voices fire back, call for BC poverty reduction plan.

By Jean Swanson and Erin Kastner 28 Jan 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Jean Swanson is an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project in Vancouver. She is an anti-poverty activist of over 30 years and author of Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion.

Erin Kastner is a Vancouver-Mount Pleasant riding resident and works at the University of British Columbia. She has previously volunteered with the BC Poverty Coalition.

[Editor's note: West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan waded into Vancouver Mount Pleasant's byelection debate last week with a defence of BC Liberal colleague Gavin Dew. Sultan, a former riding resident, argued voters are interested in much more than anti-poverty activism, calling Dew's opponents' efforts to increase welfare rates "dead-end." Here we publish two responses.]

To the Editor,

The big question is, why can't Gavin Dew, the Mt. Pleasant byelection candidate, speak for himself?  

Beyond that, increasing welfare rates is the opposite of a "dead end strategy." Imagine for a moment, what it would be like to live for a month on only $610 a month, the B.C. welfare rate for a single person. If you live in a single-room occupancy hotel with no kitchen and a washroom shared with about 10 other people you probably pay over $500 a month for rent. That leaves you with $110 a month for food, personal hygiene items, bus fare and other necessities.

The Dietitians of B.C. says it takes about $250 a month to eat nutritiously in B.C., assuming that you have a kitchen, and that was back in 2014. So imagine you're trying to survive on $610 a month, standing in food lines for hours so you won't starve, walking miles for appointments, having to skimp on good-looking clothes and grooming aids, not able to afford dental care. Who is going to hire you? How are you going to make it to Harvard, like Ralph, if that is what you desire?  

Increasing welfare rates would give people a chance to take advantage of opportunities. With enough money to rent a decent apartment and buy nutritious food, folks would have a better chance of looking for work or succeeding in school -- but, of course, unless you're a single parent, you can't go to school and be on welfare.

Then there are the folks on disability of $906 a month. These are people who have filled out a 27-page application complete with doctor's letters saying that they are not able to work. With the average bachelor apartment in Vancouver costing way more than $906 a month, why are we punishing these folks buy forcing them to live in dire poverty? 

Raising the welfare rates would be the opposite of a dead end for these folks too. It would help them lead a reasonable life. 

Jean Swanson
Vancouver anti-poverty activist

'We are a generation squeezed': resident

To the Editor:

I don't know anything about Gavin Dew, but if he's anything like his colleague Ralph Sultan, he's completely out of touch with today's reality. I'm very tired of this buzz word "opportunity" -- literally meaning "a situation or condition favourable for attainment of a goal." People who grew up 30 years ago had favourable conditions, but that doesn't exist -- especially for younger people -- today. The numbers are in, we are a generation squeezed. This "you just have to work harder" or "I did it, so can you" mentality just isn't rational anymore.

Mr. Sultan clearly doesn't respect the diversity of our community. Like a true BC Liberal he chooses to acknowledge the lucky few able to rise above present conditions brought on by old policies and ignore the issues (the root of most being poverty) faced by the many. Well Mr. Sultan, the rest of us fighting month to month to pay the rising housing charges, rising cost of food, childcare costs and student loan debt don't appreciate your sentiment that "we too could become a Harvard professor." Sure, I have dreams, but don't assume I have opportunities.

And how dare he suggest the citizens in our riding are more interested in things other than "wrenching tales from the DTES"? There is a reason this neighbourhood is always at the forefront of conversation -- we don't want anyone to be ignored. Everyone has value, whether they are a Harvard professor or homeless person.

If our voices are heard by Mr. Sultan as "shrill protests," clearly we are not getting through to our representatives in Victoria. B.C. citizens and organizations have been calling for a poverty reduction plan for so long, maybe we are starting to sound shrill. Guess what, Mr. Sultan and Mr. Dew, and all you BC Liberals, we're going to keep calling for a poverty reduction plan until we are no longer the last province in Canada without one.

It's very strange that Mr. Sultan has a Ph.D in economics and yet Mr-previously-a-Harvard-professor-Sultan doesn't seem to grasp the benefits to society of lifting up those with less opportunity.

Erin Kastner
Mount Pleasant riding resident  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Elections,

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