For Immediate Release
November 8, 2015
Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territory
“It’s important that we keep talking about [raising welfare rates] and get louder and louder.” That is what singer Bif Naked told a well-attended news conference in Vancouver on the last day of the 4th Annual Welfare Food Challenge.
The Challenge is sponsored by Raise the Rates, a coalition that wants government to raise welfare rates to $1,500 from $610 a month for a single person. BC welfare rates have been frozen for over 8 years. Nearly 200 Challenge takers in BC ate for a week on only what they could buy for $21, the amount a person on welfare would have left from their $610 for food, after paying for other essentials.
Naked talked about the stigma of being on welfare, which she saw in comments made on social media. “Stigma. It’s almost like a caste system. These wonderful, amazing, loving people [on welfare] … shouldn’t have to identify as being dismissed and shunned,” she said.
“So many people are suffering illness from going without food,” Joanne Shaw said at the news conference. “We have to increase the rates.”
BC Government Employees’ Union President Stephanie Smith said she took the Challenge because “I hear from our members [who work in the welfare system] about their challenges and difficulties trying to provide supports and resources. It’s time to raise the rates and the minimum wage to $15 an hour,” said Smith.
“Tomorrow is the end for me but not for the other 177,000 people,” said Cherie Devisser, one of many Vancity employees taking the Challenge. Doing the Challenge meant “living on the outskirts of a normal life,” she added.
Going to sleep was the only way MP Jenny Kwan could deal with the headaches and hunger of not having enough to eat while she did the Challenge. “The smell of food made me shake. You are not a participant in life, just an observer.” Kwan said the only thing that kept her going was “knowing that this is the last day. But 175,000 people [on social assistance in BC] don’t see the end.”
“There’s a growing movement to deal with issues of social assistance,” noted Harold Lavender, a man who has lived on disability. “Not having enough money is hard on people who feel isolated.”
Melanie Mark, the NDP candidate in Vancouver Mount Pleasant tried the Challenge with her 2 daughters. Her daughters didn’t complete the Challenge. “I wonder if Christy Clark would send her kids to school or bed hungry? It’s a child protection and a human rights issue.”
Hospital Employees Union President Victor Elkins is a foster parent. Most issues for the children “come from the poverty they live under,” he said. “If we raise the rates many kids could stay with their parents.” Elkins said he ran out of food the previous day.
“We need a huge increase in welfare,” Bill Hopwood, the Raise the Rates organizer, told the group. Welfare should be at the poverty line, about $1,500 a month. With a $15 an hour minimum wage and building social housing a lot of jobs could be created. The richest 1% in BC have had tax breaks, worth on average, $41,000 a year – more than most workers earn in a year,” said Hopwood.
As Naked said, “Put pressure on the government … This is growing. We’ll be stronger next year.”
Contact Raise the Rates:
- Bill Hopwood: 604 738-1653, 778 686-5293 (cell) bill50 [at] vcn.bc.ca
- Website: http://welfarefoodchallenge.org