Welfare Challenge takers call for higher welfare rates and the eradication of poverty

Download the End of the 2016 Welfare Food Challenge News Release (PDF).

Some of the 2016 Welfare Food Challenge takers at the Town Hall. Click to download high resolution version.

Some of the 2016 Welfare Food Challenge takers at the Town Hall. Photo by Murray Bush. Click to download high resolution version.

View and Download Photos from the Welfare Food Challenge Town Hall Meeting


Media Release
For Immediate Release
October 23, 2016
Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territory

People who want much higher welfare rates took over Vancouver City Council Chambers on Sunday, October 23. They gathered to talk about what it was like to eat on just $18 a week, and what needs to be done about the dire poverty that the BC government is forcing people on welfare to endure. However, the takeover was helped by the city that donated the space and passed a proclamation declaring last week, Raise the Rates week. October 16–22 was the 5th annual Welfare Food Challenge. This year over 200 people from all parts of BC participated.

Jenny Kwan, the MP for Vancouver East admitted that she cheated on the challenge when she had to buy $17 worth of medicine for her cough. Irene Lanzinger, President of the BC Federation of Labour admitted stressing out over dropping and bruising an apple. MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert confessed to wanting to eat all the food for the week at one time so he wouldn’t go to bed hungry. “Hangry” is a new word that Lillian Yin, a dietitian, invented during her time doing the Challenge, meaning angry and hungry. Yin said that current welfare rates are a risk factor for diabetes. Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer confessed to almost crying when the coffee pot she was using in a hotel to cook some food stopped working. The smallest mishap can destroy the budget of people on welfare.

Photo of Fraser Stuart by Tamara Herman.

Fraser Stuart. Photo by Tamara Herman. Click to download a high-resolution version.

But Fraser Stuart summed up the feeling of the meeting when he noted that people on welfare live about 10 fewer years than others, and commented, “Government is murdering people with its policies.” Fraser talked about trying to boil eggs in a coffee pot because you have no cooking facilities in an SRO.

Photo of Fraser Doke by Tamara Herman.

Photo of Fraser Doke by Tamara Herman. Click to download a high-resolution version.

Fraser Doke talked about asking the Ministry responsible for welfare for the funds to buy 2 bottles of Ensure per day as directed by his Doctor for his health needs. “The ministry workers said they understood I needed the Ensure,” said Fraser, “but the system won’t give it to you.”

The comments came at the Town Hall meeting at the end of the week-long Welfare Food Challenge where volunteers who aren’t on welfare agree to eat on the amount of money that a single person on welfare would have. All provincial MLAs were asked to do the challenge but only two accepted, Spencer Chandra Herbert from Vancouver West End and Melanie Mark from Vancouver Mt. Pleasant, both from the NDP.

Chandra Herbert was revealing when talking about what needed to be done and what he would do to change the situation. “I’ve got to bring 34 MLAs and the other New Democrats on side.” Then Chandra Herbert went on, “In some communities the level of poor bashing is very high. We have to continue this level of awareness raising.” Chandra Herbert thanked Raise the Rates for putting pressure on us “because there are other louder voices.”

Photo of Irene Lanzinger and Andrea Reimer by Murray Bush.

Photo of Irene Lanzinger and Andrea Reimer by Murray Bush. Click to download a high-resolution version.

When asked what needed to be done, Reimer suggested the first step should be to immediately raise welfare shelter rates from $375 a month to $600 and to make it possible to cook in SRO hotel rooms. Next, welfare should be indexed to the cost of housing, she said.

Bill Hopwood of Raise the Rates said welfare rates should increased to the poverty line of $1,500 a month and disability to $1,800, as they have additional health expenses. “Do we want to end something bad or just make it a little better?” he asked. Hopwood pointed out that Vancouver’s proclamation called for the eradication of poverty, not just a slight reduction in poverty. Hopwood also pointed out that the “government gives $3 billion every year to the rich and corporations in tax cuts and gave a tax cut of $41,000 a year to each of the richest 1%, which is more than the average BC wage.”

Photo of Katelyn Siggelkow by Murray Bush.

Katelyn Siggelkow in foreground. Photo by Murray Bush. Click to download a high-resolution version.

Katelyn Siggelkow said that taking the Challenge had inspired her to action.

Photo of Bill Hopwood of Raise the Rates. Photo by Tamara Herman.

Bill Hopwood. Photo by Tamara Herman. Click to download a high-resolution version.

Photo of graphic facilitation at the Welfare Food Challenge Town Hall on Oct 23, 2016

Graphic facilitation by Tiara Jung at the Welfare Food Challenge Town Hall on Oct 23, 2016. Photo by Tamara Herman. Click to download a high-resolution version.

Hopwood urged people who want to help make poverty and raising welfare rates an issue in the provincial election to check out Raise the Rates new We Can’t Afford Poverty Campaign at nopovertybc.ca. Posters and buttons are available now and soon the website will have more information about how you can help pressure BC politicians to end poverty.

Graphic Recording from the 2016 Welfare Food Challenge Town Hall by Tiare Jung

Graphic Recording from the 2016 Welfare Food Challenge Town Hall by Tiare Jung. Click to download a high-resolution version.

Contact Raise the Rates:

Photo of what a welfare paycheque goes towards and why $18 per week for food. Photo by Tamara Herman.

Total welfare   $610
Rent (realistic rent for an SRO)* $479  
Room damage deposit $20  
No bus tickets – walk everywhere $0  
Cell phone (to look for work) $25  
Personal hygiene/laundry $10  
Total of all non-food expenditures $534  
What’s left for food $76

$76 x 12 months = $912 for a year

$912 a yr/365 days = $2.50 a day

$2.50 x 7 days = $17.50 a week

Allow $18 for a week’s food

No money for clothes, transit, a coffee, haircuts, or any social life or treats.

* Note on SRO rent:
SROs are the cheapest accommodation in Vancouver.

The City of Vancouver found that the average rent of an SRO is now $479 a month. This contrasts with the Provincial government’s shelter allowance portion of welfare of $375 a month.
(http://council.vancouver.ca/20160531/documents/rr1presentation.pdf page 14)

Photo of posters and buttons from the 'We Can't Afford Povery' Campaign. By Tamara Herman.

Posters and buttons from the 'We Can't Afford Povery' Campaign. Photo by Tamara Herman. Click to download a high-resolution version.

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