SFU economist Jon Kesselman makes the links between rising homelessness and BC’s abysmal welfare rates in this commentary from the Vancouver Sun:
Imagine that you wake up each morning with six dollars burning a hole in your pocket.
Let’s see: How might you spend your money? Maybe contemplate breakfast, a midday meal and supper at nightfall?
On some days you might consider buying toiletries such as toothpaste, floss, soap, and grooming items; household supplies like toilet paper, cleaning products, light bulbs, and the like; perhaps replacing some worn-out clothes and footwear on occasion; a movie and the laundromat now and then; periodically repairing or replacing the toaster, radio or TV, and furniture; an over-the-counter medication; a newspaper; a bus ticket to visit a friend or search for work; and so on.
But with $6, would you even get as far as lunch? You might if you had an operating fridge, range and cookware to prepare your own meals, which unfortunately you do not.
So your $6 might get you breakfast at a cheap restaurant and a beverage for your lunch. But forget about the sandwich, and dream on about supper and all the other daily necessities.
Oh, don’t worry about the rent; that’s already been covered at $325 per month, which, if you are lucky enough to find anything, gets you a small room in a dilapidated building with little security and shared but menacing bathroom facilities. And you may have roommates, too — the ever-present bedbugs and rats.
These are the conditions that our society finds acceptable for British Columbians who are deemed employable but have no financial resources. In fact, many beneficiaries classified as employable face significant barriers to employment, and others are denied welfare entirely or find it too difficult to access with the result that some end up homeless.
Welfare benefits for employable single persons in B.C. are $185 per month (the daily $6) plus a $325 monthly housing allowance, for a grand total of $510.
These figures have been unchanged since 1994 despite a rise in living costs of nearly 30 per cent; the benefits are just one-third of what Statistics Canada computes as the low-income cutoff.
… Welfare beneficiaries simply cannot survive without regular resort to food banks, soup kitchens and whatever else they can scrounge through begging, dumpster diving or stealing.
When employable welfare beneficiaries find even part-time work, their earnings are deducted dollar-for-dollar from their benefits.
As a society we fault these people for not working, but when they find some work we penalize them by confiscating their earnings. No one should be surprised that beneficiaries seek to work for unreported cash, yet we attack them again under the rubric of “welfare fraud.”
The situation is only somewhat better for persons deemed to have serious disabilities, who draw welfare benefits of around $850 per month. Yet much of their additional funds, relative to employable beneficiaries, is consumed by special health care and personal needs related to their disability.
Remarkably, we pay non-aged British Columbians with severe physical, mental, or emotional disabilities $250 less per month than the $1,100 guaranteed to every Canadian elderly person via federal benefits. Are our most defenceless citizens whose work potential is limited by disability worthy of less support than our seniors?
Moreover, the B.C. welfare system allows disabled beneficiaries to earn up to $500 per month without reducing their benefits.
This provision makes sense in promoting some self-sufficiency. But it is odd that we reward work for those with the most limited employability while penalizing the most employable beneficiaries for every dollar of earnings.
Clearly, B.C.’s welfare system is falling far short of the needs of basic decency for our most vulnerable members.
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