An anti-poverty advocacy group in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is calling on the province to raise welfare rates, while issuing a challenge to all MLAs to try living on a meagre assistance income.
A coalition calling itself Raise the Rates wants MLA's to take up the challenge by living for one month this summer on $610, which is the top rate for a single person on B.C. income assistance.
It's a fair challenge, given the B.C. Liberals' pledge to put families first, said coalition spokeswoman Jean Swanson.
"There's tens of thousands of people who are in families with children who are on welfare," said Swanson. "Obviously, if you have a families- first agenda, the first priority should be people on welfare."
Welfare recipient Fraser Stewart said Thursday that it's virtually impossible to live on the welfare stipend.
Enough resources, minister says
"After you finish paying your rent, if you're lucky enough to find a place at $450 a month or $500 a month, you're not left with a whole lot," said Stewart. "It's impossible. After one week of buying food, you're left with nothing, absolutely nothing for the rest of the month. I've got 50 cents left in my pocket."
But the B.C. minister responsible for income assistance, Harry Bloy, says there are enough resources in place.
"We help them with subsidized housing, child-care subsidies, dental and healthcare for their children and a wide range of employment programs," said Bloy. "They get [Medical Service Plan] at no charge, Pharmacare at no charge. It's not just the $610 we provide."
Bloy said welfare is meant to be a temporary stop-gap on the way to economic self-sufficiency, and that's in line with the families-first agenda.
Welfare rates in B.C. were last increased in 2007.