Time to give all children a fair start – Raise welfare


Caitlin & 8 year old children at ‘Sad’ birthday

“It is time to level the playing field and increase welfare rates so all of our children can thrive.” That’s what Caitlin Pencarrick Hertzman, Chair of Strathcona School PAC, told a news conference at Strathcona Community Centre today.
The occasion of the news conference was a “Sad” Birthday on April 1 to make years since welfare rates were last raised in BC. Before cutting the birthday cake with a group of 8 year old children, Pencarrick Hertzman explained why she felt strongly the need to raise welfare, had written the letter to the Minister (see below) and organized the ‘Sad’ birthday.
“A few months ago Raise the Rates contacted me to see if we’d be interested in speaking up about stagnant welfare rates in BC. They told me it had been 8 years since welfare rates had last increased.
“I immediately wrote back eager to participate. As the chair of the PAC at Strathcona Elementary it is my job, and my passion, to advocate for our students. The most important piece of this is to ensure that ALL students at our school have an equal opportunity to thrive, learn and succeed.
“My son is 8 years old. I think how much has happened in those years. It would be easy to just think of the obvious increases in the cost of living, especially here in Vancouver. I think that it’s more important though to think about what happen in the first 8 years of a child’s life. These first 8 years are the most important years for a child’s development. If a child is vulnerable in these early years their chances for success in terms of education, health and employment are dramatically reduced. The Human Early Learning Partnership studies these exact issues and notes that one of the primary drivers of vulnerability is socio-economic status.
“Having limited access to funds and resources in your first 8 years can drastically alter your hopes for the future.
“Our school, our PAC and our community centre have done their utmost to step in and meet the gaps in our families’ incomes. Over 60% of the funds the school raises goes to emergency needs such as food security, emergency supplies such as weather- appropriate footwear and clothing, and covering everyday school cost for low income families. This money could be spent on musical instruments, workshops and technology to enhance our students’ learning experiences, like it is in schools in more affluent areas. Instead, we spend our funds making up for the shortfall caused by low welfare rates and a lack of an appropriate social safety net.
“If our government thinks that it is acceptable for children in our neighbourhood to receive less opportunity for growth and success, then we will continue to fight this inequality. It is time to level the playing field and increase welfare rates so all of our children can thrive.”

Raise Welfare Rates to Give Strathcona School Students an Equal Opportunity to Learn and Succeed

An open letter to Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development
Dear Ms. Stilwell,
I am writing to you today as the Chair of the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) at Lord Strathcona Elementary School. Strathcona is located in the heart of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver and has an incredibly diverse student body, made up of children from the massive social housing complexes that bound Strathcona east and west, to million dollar homes and everywhere in between. We are a fiercely proud school community, and we are very conscious of our diversity. In everything we do as a PAC we ensure that all of our students are able to participate.
Our school administration and teachers put a huge amount of effort into ensuring that all of our students are ready to learn in the classroom as well. The school seeks out funding and resources to give all of our students the opportunity to learn successfully every day. The majority of this funding is spent feeding our students, from our breakfast program, to subsidized hot lunch, to our “back pack program”, run by the Strathcona Community Centre. These programs provide breakfast and lunch while at school and send students home with food over the weekend. 204 families, that’s at least 36% of our students, rely on these programs. We spend $30,000 a year on emergency funding for our low-income students. That’s 60% of our private funding going to food, clothing and other essentials – like mattresses. Students who have empty stomachs, inadequate shoes and coats or unfurnished homes are not equipped to spend 6 hours a day focused on learning.
This funding should be spent on field trips. It should give our students tools to broaden their educational experience – like musical instruments, arts supplies, sports equipment, books and school supplies. Instead, the majority of our school’s fundraising efforts are spent on making up the shortfall in families’ incomes. When our government doesn’t raise welfare rates to keep pace with inflation they’re telling our students and our school that their education isn’t a priority.
If welfare rates stagnate, our students’ chances at success also stagnate.
It’s time to raise welfare rates, and give all of Strathcona’s students an equal opportunity to learn, and to succeed in life.
Caitlin Pencarrick Hertzman
Parent Advisory Council, Strathcona School, Vancouver

Raise welfare rates, diverse crowd tells government

Walk2RaiseWelfare2Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories – Chanting, “What do we want, raise the rates,” and “Tax the rich to feed the poor,” over 150 people took their colourful signs and positive energy on a loud march down Hastings Street to the Government offices at the foot of Howe Street, today March 31.
“People are tired of chasing food lines all day,” Bill Beaugarde of the Aboriginal Front Door told the crowd. At $610 a month the welfare rate means that people don’t have enough to both pay rent and eat nutritiously.
“We really need a massive increase,” Harold Lavender explained. The disability pension for a single person like Harold is a mere $906 a month.
OntheWalk1“Its good that we’re getting more allies,” said Lavender, noting the wide range of union, student, community and faith groups and people on welfare in the boisterous crowd. “We need to unite and really push this forward.”
“I have a long list of illnesses including diabetes,” said Tracey Morrison. “The amount of money we get is not enough for a proper diet. I work really hard to survive on welfare. I sit on the phone [with the Ministry] for an hour and a half just to talk to someone who makes me feel like dirt.”
Fraser Stuart, called the “passionate cockroach” because he was wearing a cockroach costume, suggested that roaches like low welfare rates because they mean that roaches have lots of crummy housing to roam in. “You can reduce health costs in BC a lot by raising welfare, talking poverty could save $1 billion a year” said Stuart.
“We need students, profs, and everyone from all walks of life to tell Christy that we need a raise in welfare,” said Sheila Avissa, a UBC student who joined other students on the march.
“Welfare means being hungry. Welfare means being homeless,” said Trish Garner of the Poverty Reduction Coalition. “We need to start treating people with dignity. We need a net to bounce people back into the full life they deserve.”
Raise the Rates organizer Bill Hopwood said that the government’s announcements earlier this month would impact only a few thousand of the 174,000 people on welfare. “But it shows they are feeling the pressure and that we need to keep it up.” Hopwood added that poverty costs the province about $8 billion and year, while it would only cost $4 billion to end it.
The march was held to mark 8 years since the last increase in welfare. No one else in BC has had no increase in income over that long. Over the same time the Premier of BC’s pay has gone up 53%.
Hopwood stated that the government has choices, “BC is a rich province. The government chose to give no increase to 174,000 people on welfare, a 20 cent increase in the minimum wage and $227 million to the richest people in BC. Government policy seems to be to starve the poor to fee the rich. We need to build the pressure to make them change policy.”

More photos here

Video by Bud McNeely here

An open letter to the Hon. Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Innovation

This April marks the 8th year in a row that welfare rates have remained frozen despite our provincial government acknowledging the need for an increase. The rate for single people who are expected to work, $610 a month, is literally not enough to pay rent and buy food, let alone meet other necessary expenses. According to the Dietitians of BC the cost of nutritious food for a month for a single man was $290 in 2011. The average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment in Vancouver is over $1000. Families and people with disabilities are also suffering.
We urge the provincial government to raise welfare rates substantially to ensure that the 174,772 people on social assistance and disability can meet their basic needs.
Endorsed by:
Trish Garner on behalf of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, with over 400 member groups throughout BC: “The current income assistance system in BC is fundamentally broken. People in desperate need are being denied assistance, and if lucky enough to navigate all the structural and administrative barriers to welfare and have their application accepted, they are subjected to a life of “survival,” struggling to meet the most basic needs of shelter and food. Welfare is only $610 for a single person and $906 for a person with a recognized disability, and has not been raised since 2007. It wasn’t enough to live on then and it definitely isn’t enough to live on now. We support a significant raise in welfare and disability rates!”
Thelma Jack, Interim Director, and Bill Beauregarde, Community Co-ordinator, Aboriginal Front Door: “With higher rates people could afford better accommodation, other than SRO’s, which can be bad for their health. People could have the dignity of choice of buying their own food and not standing in line for free food.”

Wes Regan, Executive Director, Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association: “Raising welfare rates will increase the spending power of the residents who live alongside our merchants, better enabling them to shop locally and enjoy the range of goods and services available here. This better enables small businesses and social enterprises to create further jobs, including jobs for those with barriers. In short, increasing welfare rates is good for business as it puts money right back into the local economy, where it can do its work to create a healthier community.”
Janice Abbott, CEO, Atira Women’s Resource Society: “The biggest impact of an increased support allowance will be increased access to more food and better nutrition, resulting in better health, better decision making, better/improved interpersonal relationships including relationships with children, greater independence and increased dignity. For some women it may also allow for increased participation within their neighbourhoods, including greater civic engagement and the opportunity to give back to their communities. Children who are able to stay in their families and be nurtured physically and emotionally are also far less likely to experience the same indignities their parents may have experienced, including homelessness, struggles with substance use and mental and spiritual wellness. This is a long-term investment in all our futures.”
Ethel Whitty, Director, Carnegie Community Centre: “With the shelter portion of income assistance at $375 and the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Vancouver at over $1000, people who need welfare can’t afford to rent a place to live in Vancouver unless they get into social housing. Tenants often wait years before a social housing unit becomes available. If welfare rates went up substantially people would have options other than homelessness or being forced to live in tiny hotel rooms and share washrooms with strangers.”
Paul Taylor, Director, Gordon Neighbourhood House: “Community organizations across the province are seeing an increase in the number of people on welfare accessing community-based charitable meal programs and the like. The growth is not sustainable for community organizations that struggle to meet the growing demand. People on welfare struggle to meet their food needs each and every day, as they navigate the web of emergency/charitable – this is not a solution to poverty.”
All of us urge your government to take immediate action and raise welfare rates substantially.
Thelma Jack/Bill Beauregarde: 604 697-5662
Paul Taylor: 604 683-2554 ext. 202
Janice Abbott: 604 331-1420
Wes Regan: 604 805-3591
Bill Hopwood, Raise the Rates: 778 686-5293
Trish Garner, Poverty Reduction Coalition: 604 417-8885

Welfare banners show mainstream support for increased rates

balconyWhat do two associate professors, a lawyer and a dentist have in common? They are all displaying a banner that says, “Raise the Rates. Welfare=Hunger” on their Vancouver home.
These folks have three of the ten banners lawyer Megan Ellis had printed for Raise the Rates, to show that people all over the city want higher welfare rates. The current rate for a single person is $610 a month and $906 for a person with a recognized disability.
“I had the banners made because I found it difficult to remain silent knowing that many people in my community live with hunger as a frequent, if not constant companion,” says Ellis, a lawyer. “The government has allowed the minimal support which is “welfare” to erode to such a point, that people can no longer maintain even the basics of food and shelter, let alone live productive lives. I find it intolerable that people in this wealthy province live in hunger, despite the efforts of food banks and charities to fill the growing gaps. It is immeasurably cruel and short-sighted that children go without the nutrition they need to grow and to learn. There must be a basic standard of living to which all of us are entitled, even those of us who cannot provide it for ourselves, and welfare rates must be brought up to meet it. The banners are a way of protesting this wrong.”
“I was excited to have a chance to display my opinion on the welfare rates,” said Penny Thompson, a dentist. “I find it discouraging that the public mood on welfare has been shifted by business-influenced politicians toward a much less compassionate culture than we used to have in Canada. I was happy to be offered a means to speak up about it. When we are silent, the politicians think they have support for their ideas.”

“I live in what many people would consider a ‘nice’ house,” continued Thompson, “and I liked the idea that people would see my banner and know that not everyone who is lucky enough to have enough in these troubled economic times is complacent about how hard a lot of people are struggling to care for themselves and their families.”
“We put up this banner because Canada is a very wealthy country that can afford to look after our elderly living on fixed incomes, single parents raising children, or people with disabilities,” said Charles Dobson and Alex Phillips, both Associate Professors at Emily Carr College.

“Making sure that everyone’s basic needs are met also saves money in the long run by reducing costs to social services and the justice system. We don’t want our country to look like the third world where income inequality is extreme and the elite drive around in huge SUVs while children go hungry. Raising the rates won’t eliminate poverty but it will relieve a lot of suffering and maybe make a difference in helping some people get a foothold on self-sufficiency.”
People with banners are posting pictures of them on Facebook and sending pictures of them to Premier Christy Clark. Raise the Rates is asking people to keep them up for 2 or 3 weeks and then pass them on to someone else. If you would like to get on the waiting list for a banner, or sponsor some more banners, email. bill50@vcn.bc.ca
“Just like the rally we had on Tuesday, the banners are showing that there is broad support for increasing welfare rates which haven’t been raised for 8 years,” said Raise the Rates organizer Bill Hopwood.

BC government’s priority – Look after the rich

budget15The BC government claims it can’t afford to raise welfare and tackle poverty. Yet it can give away $227 million to the richest people in BC. It tells you who the BC government runs the province for.


Poor People’s Radio Show: 15 and 1500 in ‘15

PosterOn Friday, December 5, Raise the Rates with Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS), Carnegie Community Action Program (CCAP), Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), Aboriginal Front Door and Downtown Eastside residents organized a march and rally of over 70 people for the 3rd annual Poor People’s Radio Show outside the CBC.
After 32 years of Food Banks in BC and 28 years of the CBC raising money for the Food Banks we want to know when is society going to end the need for Food Banks. Food Banks alleviate symptoms, hunger, for a few days, but do not tackle the cause – poverty. They were established as a “temporary” measure; but are now an institution – a tragic, permanent acceptance of mass poverty in the rich province of BC.
on the WalkEinstein said “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” After 32 years of Food Banks, with increasing hunger, it is time to change. Food Banks Canada states that, “without poverty, food banks would not need to exist.”
The poverty line in BC is around $1,500 a month so, as no one should live in poverty, Raise the Rates proposes that the welfare rate should be $1,500 a month (with a Person with Disabilities rate of $1,800 a month). This, linked with minimum wage of $15 an hour, would end poverty. We say fifteen hundred and fifteen in ’15.
EarleThe Poor People’s Radio hour-long show included moving speeches, uplifting songs from Solidarity Notes Choir and drumming. Victoria Bull opened the show with an acknowledgment of standing on unceded Coast Salish territory. The co-hosts, Tracey Morrison and Wendy Pederson, guided the show. Audrey Seagal, a Musqueam activist, spoke about her own experiences of poverty and the links to wider social injustice. Harold Lavender, Richard Cunningham and Kombii Nanjalah all spoke of their experiences of poverty. They pointed out that the present welfare system neither works to support people, who through misfortune, are on welfare nor benefits wider society.
AudreyFraser Stewart proposed that, after 28 years of the CBC raising money for Food Banks, the CBC should have a serious discussion on Food Bank Day of the actions needed to end the need for Food Banks. It would be a great achievement if 2015 was the last Food Bank Day as BC was ending poverty.
Bill Hopwood, from Raise the Rates, stated that as BC is a rich province there is no reason for poverty – poverty is the result of political decisions about the priorities. As BC is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan, in 2015 the provincial government should enact a program to end poverty.
A full anti-poverty program, rising welfare and the minimum wage, providing low cost childcare and building social housing, would cost less than $4 billion a year but would save the $8 billion the province currently wastes on the costs of poverty. Ending poverty would save around $4 billion a year, create jobs and make BC a much happier place.
The Poor People’s Radio ended with a minute of silence remembering the people who died of poverty in the last year.
Food Bank use is increasing in BC, up 3.6% last year and still up 25% since the recession of 2008. Last year the CBC raised $655,147, which shows the generosity of BC people and sounds like a lot of money. However, this is only $6.73 for each of the 97,369 people who used Food Banks in 2014 – less than one day’s healthy eating!
A recent report by Put Food in the Budget pointed out that in 2013 CBC sponsored 19 seasonal charity programs for Food Banks. These generated a total of 1,868,000 pounds of food which, when divided by the 1.7 million people who visit a Food Bank in Canada in a year, equals 1.1 pounds of food per person year. This is only one third of one day’s food needed for each recipient.
We call upon BC’s politicians to follow the old phrase “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Ask yourselves, how can you justify wasting money and making people live in poverty because of misfortune or having a very low paying job? It is time to do the right thing and in 2015 raise welfare to $1,500 a month and the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

• CCPA, 2011, The Cost of Poverty in BC
• Food Banks Canada, Hunger Count 2014
• Put Food in the Budget, 2014, Who banks on food banks in Canada
• Provincial Health Services Authority, 2014, Food costing in BC 2013

3rd Annual Welfare Food Challenge

The campaign has been launched and over 100 people have signed up to take the Welfare Food Challenge so far (and counting!).

Please check out the Welfare Food Challenge site for all the latest news and details!

The 2014 Welfare Food Challenge runs from Thursday, October 16th, World Food Day, to Wednesday, October 22nd (or into Thursday, October 23rd depending on when you start). Participants will only eat the food they can buy with $21 dollars.

Read the news release and check out the photos on our Facebook page.

Photo of Kate Kysow's shopping for the week

Kate Kysow’s shopping for the week