Raise the Rates

#WelfareFoodChallenge2017 has launched

Press release

For immediate release–

November 1st 2017


While the government has implemented the election promise of raising income assistance by $100, Raise the Rates has launched their 6th Annual Welfare Food Challenge to highlight that this is not enough. The point of the challenge is to raise public awareness on the inhumanely low welfare rates. Raise the Rates challenges the public to live on just $19/week for food.

“Last year, the challenge was set at $18. Only $1 more in a week for food, even with the increase. This is because of the rising cost of rent, lack of rent control, cost of living”, says Kell Gerlings, organizer with Raise the Rates. “We know it’s not enough, the minister knows it is not enough, so what is stopping the government from acting to end poverty, not legislate it further?”

At the launch, just outside of the Nofrills on East Hastings St, low-income speakers spoke on the difficulties of living on only $19/week.  “This is what I have to live on,” says Erica Grant, a community member in the Downtown Eastside, pointing to the basket of “welfare diet” food, “ramen noodles. I know it’s not healthy. But I have no choice. It’s just shameful the way we are treated.”

“We do this challenge so that more and more people can understand the impossible situation that people on welfare face. It’s not about ‘just budget better’–it is the fact that people are being kept in poverty. And if the government really wants to show their commitment to reducing or ending poverty, then rates need to be raised,” says Gerlings. “Food banks and free meals won’t solve poverty. Poverty is political, it is a policy choice.”

The Welfare Food Challenge runs until Tuesday November 7th. While the challenge only lasts a week, people on welfare are actively living this challenge with no choice to quit, every day. “This is why we need welfare rates to be increased. The government should not use consultation to stall on doing the actual things that need to be done. We have the solutions. Raise the rates.”

pictures by Carnegie Community Action Project: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carnegieaction/24243547688/in/album-72157662153476518/


2017 Welfare Food Challenge: $710 is NOT enough!

We have launched our 2017 Welfare Food Challenge over at https://welfarefoodchallenge.org/ !

Let’s be real: While the new government is taking steps, these steps are much too small and much too slow to begin to tackle the depth of poverty that people on welfare have to fight against, every day. Even with a $100 raise to income assistance, our food challenge is only $1 more in the week than last year. This means that we are challenging YOU to budget and survive on only $19/week for food.

We are running the Welfare Food Challenge this year from Wednesday November 1st to Tuesday November 7th. The aim of the Challenge is raise public awareness about the poverty of people on welfare and the need for change. To help publicize the Challenge, we hope you will document and publicize your experiences. This could include:

  • Writing blog posts for our website
  • Posting directly to your own social media
  • Attending a news conference and speaking to the media about your experiences of the challenge
  • Sharing your experiences with your friends, family, community members, and policy makers

Please sign up here: https://welfarefoodchallenge.org/join/

And if you can’t participate this year, please get a colleague, friend, family member or acquaintance to sign up—most importantly, start the conversation.

Start the conversation because so many people think we no longer need to continue it.

$710 is not enough.

Raise the Rates is fighting to end poverty and homelessness.  If you have any questions or would like to participate, please contact Kell Gerlings at raise.the.rates17@gmail.com or 778.871.0141

Why $19 for a Week’s food?


Total welfare $710
Rent (realistic rent for an SRO)* $548
Room damage deposit $20
Bus fare ($6 compass card, 2.20/trip, or 10 trips at 2.85) (to look for work) $28
Cell phone (to look for work) $25
Personal hygiene/laundry $10
Total of all non-food expenditures $631
What’s left for food   $79

$79/m * 12 months = $948 a year

$948/a year/365 days = ~$2.60 a day

~$2.60 a day * 7 days = $18.2, rounded up to $19

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

Note on SRO rent:

The most recent report coming from the Carnegie Community Action Project shows that the average lowest rent in SRO hotels in the DTES is $548. This contrasts with the Provincial government’s shelter allowance portion of welfare of $375 a month.

(Reference: Carnegie Community Action Project, Out of Control: The Rate of Change and Rents in the Downtown Eastside, page 8 of 24 http://www.carnegieaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CCAP-SRO-HOTEL-REPORT-2016.pdf)

Raise the Rates meets Minister of ‘Poverty Reduction’


rtr shane mtg.jpg

On August 15th, a small group of Raise the Rates organizers and volunteers headed to Minister Shane Simpson’s downtown Vancouver office to give him our demands. This is our confirming letter.

To Minister Shane Simpson;

Hello! Raise the Rates coalition here. We are writing to confirm the demands we brought forward to our meeting on Tuesday August 15th, where we spoke about the necessity of raising welfare rates to at least the market basket measure of $1680 (for Vancouver area), how we can’t end homelessness without raising rates, how impossible it is to get PWD, how people are losing their lives in poverty, and how a more equal society benefits everyone.

Raise the Rates is a coalition of people in poverty, organizers, advocates, faith groups, unions, community groups and organizations. We have spent many years demanding the government to commit to ending poverty. Two weeks ago, we asked you, what kind of legacy does the NDP want to have? Do you want to end poverty, legislate it further (which it will be with rates kept at the level they are now, $710/single person), or reduce it? We gave you a list of arbitrary barriers to accessing welfare that you could remove with an order in council. These barriers stem from the 50% diversion rate in welfare offices, which, if this policy was abolished, more people would be able to access the support they need.

We are sending along this letter asking you to respond to our demands:

  1. Will you raise rates so that poverty in BC is ended?
  2. Do you commit to removing barriers to accessing welfare, such as long phone wait times, an inaccessible online application, Independence Tests, and restoring individual case workers and maintaining office hours for a full 8 hour day?
  3. Do you commit to immediate action to end homelessness, recognizing that raising rates is crucial to helping make that happen?
  4. Do you commit to promoting the benefits of ending poverty? This means speaking publicly in support of ending poverty, and not speaking of the ‘costs’ of ending poverty. Will the NDP use the consultation period on the poverty reduction plan to explain the benefits and cost savings of a strong comprehensive plan? Or will the NDP be ‘neutral’, so making the Poverty Reduction Coalition and allies do all the work to counter the Fraser Institute and conservative?
  5. Do you recognize that the NDP-Green government must come out in full support of ending poverty by ending poor-bashing, committing to strong and bold policies, and taxing the rich?

One of our group members said to you, “We know you are inheriting a huge mess, but people are losing their lives”. We understand the mess the Liberals made, and the devastating effects of their policies. We call upon you, Minister Simpson and your fellow ministers, assistants, deputy ministers, parliamentary secretaries, everyone in office, to push forward bold ideas and an unshakeable commitment to ending poverty. We will continue to change the minds and hearts of the public to come to understand that $610, $710 is not enough to live on, and that a more equal society benefits all. What you must do now is support these ideas publicly, and set an example of what a just, reconciliation-focused BC could actually look like.

In Struggle and Solidarity,

Raise the Rates

Raise the Rates: Submission to Federal Consultation on Poverty Reduction Plan

In early June, Raise the Rates contributed to the Federal Consultation on creating a poverty reduction plan. We doubt this will have much impact– consultations feel very removed from any actual change. However, it’s about time the federal government was talking about a poverty reduction plan (though it should really be a poverty ABOLISHMENT plan). If you ever wanted a comprehensive idea on what we stand for, read on…



Dear Honorable Jean Yves Duclos,

This is the response of the BC Raise the Rates coalition to your request for input into how a National Anti-Poverty Strategy should look.

Who is Raise the Rates? Raise the Rates includes 22 member groups such as the Carnegie Community Action Project, Positive Living, Streams of Justice, BC Teachers Federation, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Gordon Neighbourhood House. Our members also include low income individuals.  We have been working since 2006.  We sponsor the Welfare Food Challenge every year, where we ask people to eat only what they can buy with what a person on welfare has for food money.  We also hold actions designed to pressure governments to raise welfare rates, restore bus passes to people with disabilities, etc.

Article 25 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights: We believe Canada should comply with the Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “ Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”  We believe that these rights should be enshrined in Canadian law so they are actually enforceable.

We support the development of a comprehensive national poverty reduction strategy that is grounded in human rights and has strong targets and timelines. It should be legislated and adequately funded. This strategy should provide strong policy responses to address poverty.

Raising welfare rates: Raise the Rates has focused on trying to get the BC government to increase current welfare rates which have been frozen at $610 a month for a single person for over a decade.  This means that single people who pay the average rent of $548/month  for a single room occupancy hotel room in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have only $2 a day left for food and everything else.  http://www.carnegieaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CCAP-SRO-HOTEL-REPORT-2016.pdf

We need to restore national standards for welfare: Prior to 1996 the federal government shared the cost of welfare payments 50/50 with provinces providing the provinces complied with 4 rules that guaranteed basic economic human rights:

  •   The right to adequate income when in need;
  •   The right to appeal decisions about welfare;
  •   The right to freely chosen work or training (not workfare);
  •   The right to get welfare regardless of the province that you are from.

When the Liberal government abolished the Canada Assistance Plan in 1996, provinces lost half of the money they spent on welfare and low income people lost these rights.  Provinces began either cutting or not indexing welfare payments until, now, they are completely inadequate and people who rely on welfare have an extremely hard time subsisting.  This is about the time that homelessness in Canada started becoming a major problem.  Before 1996 welfare provided enough money that people in need could access it and have enough to pay rent.

Therefore, Raise the Rates is calling on the federal government to again require national standards for welfare and contribute to provinces’ welfare expenses.

Two other national standards should be added to the four above:

  •  That people have the right to assistance without discrimination based on sex, race, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental or physical disability, drug use or source of income; and
  •   That provinces must have an easily accessible and respectful  process for obtaining welfare when in need, a process that doesn’t deter people who are not computer literate, and don’t have phones, and have other needs that make it hard for them to deal with bureaucracies.

Welfare amounts and access: Raise the Rates is calling on welfare to be paid at Market Basket level which would be about $15oo a month for a single person without disabilities.  Provinces should also be forbidden from enacting measures that restrict access to people in need such as BC’s 5 week wait for assistance when you first apply, and the requirement that you prove that you’ve worked for 2 years prior to receiving assistance.

Minimum wage: A huge part of ending poverty is increasing the minimum wage.  It should be $15 an hour now.  While this is mostly in provincial jurisdiction, the federal government could enact it for federal jurisdiction and provide incentives for provinces to follow suit.

Housing costs are causing poverty:  The federal government needs to allocate billions of dollars to build social housing that low income people can afford.  In BC we need at least 10,000 units per year.  Housing must be seen as a human right, not a commodity and governments must act to get a huge portion of housing out of the market like it is in places like Vienna and Hong Kong.

Childcare: Support for $10 a day or free quality childcare should also be a right of Canadians and would help many mothers escape poverty, although we believe that if single mothers want to stay home and raise their children income assistance should provide enough for them to do that.

Employment Insurance: Unemployment Insurance should be restored to all people who are unemployed, not a mere 40 or so percent,  and rates should be increased, especially for people who have low wages.

End poor bashing.  The federal government should take a leading role in countering discrimination,  stereotyping and poor bashing of people who are poor.  For example, the government shouldn’t  just say it wants to help the middle class and people who want to be middle class.  People who are poor are human too and there is no shame in not having a lot of money.  The Canadian Human Rights Act should be amended to prohibit discrimination based on social condition including low income.

Poverty of Indigenous peoples:  Land should be restored to Indigenous peoples. The theft of land has been proven again and again as the source of harm and poverty in Indigenous communities. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People needs to ratified and implemented immediately, and the federal government needs to uphold the rights it has granted Indigenous communities through land and title immediately. All resource and land development on unceded Indigenous lands needs to be returned, and Indigenous economies need to be encouraged to flourish. In the meantime, the basic human right to an adequate standard of living should be implemented immediately for all Indigenous people–clean drinking water, the right to speak Indigenous languages, raise their children, and live free from discrimination.

Tax the rich.  Studies by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have shown that it’s cheaper to reduce than to maintain poverty.  But there will be some up-front costs that should be paid for by increasing taxes on the rich and corporations, considering all the tax breaks and benefits that they receive.  More studies show that inequality is associated with shorter life expectancies for people at all income levels but especially low income people. So taxing the rich can not only provide money for needed programs but also provide more equality and longer lives.

Thank you for looking at our recommendations

Yours truly,

Kell Gerlings, organizer Raise the Rates

Jean Swanson, organizer Raise the Rates

Thank You and What’s Next??

If you are outraged by the games the BC Libs are playing with welfare rates and poor people’s lives….

If you are sick of the status quo, frozen welfare rates, homelessness, poor-bashing…

If you want to see change happen…

then JOIN US on MONDAY JUNE 26th at 7PM at Grandview Cavalry Baptist Church (1803 East 1st Ave) for our annual Thank You and What’s Next?! event. We will be sharing stories, desserts, and brainstorming for new ideas, fresh voices, and more energy in our campaign to raise the rates!

If you’ve never been to a raise the rates meeting…make it to this one! please RSVP to raise.the.rates17@gmail.com so we know how many desserts to make!

More info:



welcome our new organizer!

We are excited to announce that we found our new organizer!

Welcome to Kell Gerlings, who has slowly been starting with Raise the Rates over the past few weeks. Kell is a queer youth activist, originally from Toronto, living on Unceded poetry againCoast Salish lands for 6 years now. Kell studied political science and social justice at UBC, and has been involved in many different organizing spaces in their time here– from climate justice to gender justice, in the classroom and on the streets. Most recently, Kell has helped launch the Vancouver Tenants Union, and is involved in the struggle for housing justice in the Downtown Eastside. Kell is excited to bring their passion for justice and energy for mobilizing to the Raise the Rates fight.

Over the next few weeks and months, we are going to be brainstorming where we want to go and what we can do, and do differently, as a campaign. This is the perfect time as the government changes hands to strategize and imagine what we want and need to see happen next. Keep an eye out for updates in this space — and save the date for Monday June 26th, for our Thank You//What’s Next? event. More details to come!

You can get in touch with any ideas and plans for Raise the Rates at our new central email address: raise.the.rates.17@gmail.com

Inequality Kills 40,000 Canadians a Year

Low Welfare Rates Cause Early Death

At a mock funeral today people commemorated the shameful 10th anniversary of BC’s frozen welfare rates.

“Welfare cheques don’t come with a health warning,” said Raise the Rates organizer Bill Hopwood.  “But about 100 people every week are killed in BC” because politicians have decided to promote poverty and inequality.

Hopwood was speaking at the event called by Raise the Rates to make the point that low welfare rates contribute to the inequality that causes about 40,000 deaths a year  in Canada.

“Inequality is a political decision,” explained Hopwood.  “The richest 1% in BC got a $41,000 a year tax break.  The government must think it’s harder to be a millionaire than to live on welfare of $610 a month.”

“Wealth is not being fairly distributed,” said Dr. John Millar, former BC Public Health officer.  As a result there is a “loss of hope, feeling of despair, pain and mental illness.”

Carmen Paterson called on the government to raise welfare rates to $1500 or more so people can have a healthy standard of living.

Without higher welfare, disability and minimum wages people living with HIV “are more likely to die in poverty just as they’re winning the war on HIV,” said Neil Self or Positive Living.

Raise the Rates is calling on the province to increase welfare rates to at least $1500 a month, the federal market basket measure, to promote more health better lives for low income people.  The last increase in welfare for single people on basic welfare was on April 1, 2007.