The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg is asking the provincial government to raise social assistance rates, saying the current rates are driving recipients into crime and despair.

To get their message across, the council has launched an anti-poverty campaign it's calling "Raise the Rates," which includes a petition being circulated around the province.

"I would like to ask Mr. Doer a phrase from Oliver Twist: 'Can we have some more?'" said Ed Phillips, a social assistance recipient who helped launch the petition.

"It's just like a bowl of soup. These people need the soup, and they can't buy the soup without the rates being raised."

The Social Planning Council says 60,000 Manitobans use employment and income assistance (EIA) as their major source of income, but basic assistance rates have not kept pace with inflation.

Shelter assistance rates, for example, have not increased since 1993, the group says, while Manitoba rent increase guidelines have gone up 19 per cent in the same period.

Rates for a single person who is considered employable have increased only $20 since 1992 to $466 per month, including $271 for shelter and $195 — or about $6.50 a day— for all other living expenses, according to the council.

"That disparity leads to despair [and] people are forced to try and earn income in many, many other ways," said Marianne Cerelli, who also sits on the committee.

"Many women turn to prostitution. Many people turn to crime and it's way more costly to deal with the addictions and the crime than it would be to invest in the housing and the income supports and the child care that would mean people could live at a decent quality of life."

The petition calls on the legislative assembly to take several steps to improve the situation of welfare recipients, including:

  • Raising basic allowance rates to 1992 levels, in equivalent 2007 dollars.
  • Indexing welfare rates to inflation.
  • Allowing EIA recipients to keep more of their income, and child maintenance support payments.
  • Extending health, dental andopticalbenefits to more recipients.

The council would also like the province to develop a welfare working group with the community to review the EIA program and make recommendations for reform.