Time to raise welfare rates

SFU economist Jon Kesselman makes the links between rising homelessness and BC’s abysmal welfare rates in this commentary from the Vancouver Sun:

A whole $6! Every day!


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.


  • I have told my story to many people before, and so far everyone is surprised that has not gone through “the system”

    I am a single mother with 2 children. One which has special needs.

    Until very recently I was unable to work even part time due to the demands of my son. In fact, the ministry of Children and families forced me to quit going to school (and collecting student loans to survive), with the threat that it was not in his best interest and they would have to put him into a foster home if I was unwilling to quit school.
    I knew that there was no way I could attend work as even when he was in school I was constantly on call to pick him up, and it occured at least 2 days a week. He was also no able to attend school after January last year, and they wanted to medically exclude him.

    During this time, I recived the basic amount for a single parent with 2 children. His special diet was not covered (high fiber, no white flour, organic fruits and vegitables if possible), his medication was not covered (about $30 per month). And just transporting him to and from school cost me an additional $100 a month to buy bus passes for me to transport him (he was not able to take cardinal, and we live very far from the school).

    The only benefit I was allowed was that I was “temporarily unemployable” On top of that, for reasons I don’t want to explain, I have to claim $100 in child maintenance that I don’t even recieve to “maintain the peace” That gets deducted from my cheque 100%.

    It was only after I began to suffer from extreme depression and anxiety as a result of knowing I wasn’t able to properly provide for my children that my situation improved. It wasn’t just financial however, I was also forced to wait by the phone for the last 8 years to pick my son up. This year I am fortunate that he is in a treatment school and I am free to work some hours as long as I maintain appointments 3 days a week. (though this school will only last 1 year)

    After I reached my breaking point I applied for PPMB status and was approved. I am now able to have something in my life besides my son. Working part time has helped us pay for nessecities (I make about $350 per month since September). If only I had been able to work before, but I simply couldn’t afford the expenses.

    Also as of this week, I am entitled to the child disability benefit (through child tax benefit). Which is an additional $191 per month plus some back payment.

    But the amount of suffering it took us to get here… I haven’t spent anything except food and transportation, no clothing, no replacing things that break down, nothing. and I still had to try and curb my appitite to keep the kids fed a few times… Or eat really unhealthy food, like just rice for dinner when they go to thier dads house for the weekend to cut costs.

    Anyways thats my story, at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel, things are finally starting to improve for my family.

  • I am not surprised at peoples stories. The government does all kinds of cuts to the poor and think that we are some kind of supernatural beings that can live on the meagre dollars that are given just for basic survival. There are way more children living on the poverty level than there needs to be, something needs to change. These children are the future that are not going to be medically fit, or nutritionally fit, and these are the ones that will be taking care of the elders, who were the ones that made the decisions to starve the poor in the first place. Let’s see what happens. Hilary

  • This was a comment that somehow got attached to a completely different post(!):

    I was suprised to see how low the rates were for able bodied people. I cannot imagine living off of $6 a day. Also, there is no earnings exemption. I don’t know how one can expect people to work if it doesn’t improve their lives. I think we can raise the rates to improve the conditions while still keeping the incentive to work. That would be adding a fairly generious earnings exemption with rates that are enough to provide for needs. We can also follow Newfoundland and adjust the rates yearly to inflation.

  • I am a single mom on welfare rasising a 2 year old boy my rent is 725 a month and my welfare cheque is 825 on top of that all i have to pay bills and feed both of us I do get to keep my child tax benifit but that 266 only goes so far. Now I know what your thinking move to a cheaper place..725 is cheaper then most basement suits go for and I have been on a waiting list for almost a year to get into subsidized houseing. Why has it been ok to treat us this way? We are people too. I am not lazy looking for handouts i do what ever I can to survive at this point

  • Hey Jane, I’m not sure where abouts you live, but I know of a few people who have basement suites with a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and a bedroom. Their rent is only about $550 a month, but this is in British Columbia, so I’m not aware of what the rental market is where you are. I wonder why local governments don’t make it easier for people to rent out suites. I think this would do alot to ease the housing pressures for low income families. I know the Conservative government was supposed to put forward a plan for the long term to build housing by offering tax credits to developers. There is a simular tax credit program in the United States that is very successful at building affordable housing. The idea is that developers, or even non-profits would seek private capital and sell investors tax credits at a discount. They would then use the captial to lower the debt service charges to lower rent costs. The tax credits last for about 10 years, and are only given on condition that the rental rates remain affordable for low income people for 15 years, plus another 15 year extension period. Investors benefit by gaining tax credits at a discount, so they profit by lowering their tax burden. An example would be a million in tax credits bought at $900,000. So the investor would have an extra $100,000 in decreased tax liability. Some even pay higher for the tax credits, even more then they are worth because they can write off interest rate expenses, and depreciation.

  • When I found this site I was amazed and relieved that finally someone out there cares. I am a 40 year old male who is HIV+. I applied for disability benefits and was approved. I then applied for the nutrional, bottled water and vitamins supplement and was approved for the vitamins and the water. I was not though approved for the nutrional items request. I was asatounded!, My doctor insisted that nutrional is key (along with HAART medications) is key to slow and maintain this illness. I appealed and won eventually. I found the entire experience very stressful and I even wrote to the ministry asking them why? The response was to me a typical brush off explaining that BC has the best benefits around etc etc. Sorry to say it does not. Not only is the funding ao low it’s no wonder that people of all colours and creeds feel as though thier dignity is being stripped away piece by piece. Yes we need reform in the system but we also need to impress upon the government that we MUST be treated fairly and with dignity. This issue will be addressed with the upcoming BC budget this Feb I suggest that people of all stripes write their MLA and the ministry and show thier support.

    Thanks for providing this forum.


  • Yes we should all speak out!
    Whether or not you are in a high income bracket, or living on the streets.
    I have worked in the bush (logging) for 25 years. As a result, I have lost 30% of my hearing, I am stove up with arthritis due to a logging accident in 1994,(one doctor calls it degenerative disc disease) and my right arm has caused me pain ever since this accident. However I am turned down repeatedly for disability benefits!
    Perhaps I am not the smartest person in the world, But i Do know which end the screw goes in!
    Recently I managed to get work for a janitorial outfit, and although I am in pain, I can manage to get in 3 – 4 hours a night, which helps us with the bills. However, my wife is on a full disability, and has special needs, that are not covered by the provincial disability pension (ie. special diet items, over the counter drugs etc.) To top it off, for me to work, I need a vehicle, which is costing me $150 a month, for fuel, insurance, upkeep,etc. Not to mention, I can’t leave my wife without transportation, as she cannot get around without it!
    However, the powers that be figure I should send the money that I so painfully earn, back to them, instead of paying for those extras that they are unwilling to cover, due to policies?
    What the heck is the sense of even trying? You hear the screaming headlines about homelessness, high crime rates, Drugs/Alcohol, and Spousal Violence and abuse. What happens when you make tense situations even worse? Desperation sets in when people have nowhere to turn!
    The politicians figure that the middle class and the upper echelons vote them in, organaized labor aids in their campaigns, (which should be illegal). Maybe it is true, but until more people speak out against poverty, perhaps more will get done to benifit all Canadians.
    Before I got hurt in the logging accident, I asked about Truck Driver training through the Employment Insurance training(I was laid off for fire season at the time), and was turned down, because the course wasn’t long enough? Now that made a lot of sense? Any career goal should be looked at, for someone willing and able to work! Shouldn’t it? If this had gone through, I would probably be a little healthier, and had a long career with a good income. As it is – I’m 50 and will more than likely be Deaf and in Pain for the rest of my Life!

    It is high time that the Federals started setting a minimum rate for all provinces, and one that is going to cover the cost of living, due to high rents, and even help the poor with house and land ownership, perhaps where people can start legitimate home based businesses that suits their needs. I know if I had such, I’d have a nice little woodworking business, and my wife would be in all her glory with her own gardening center, specializing in roses. But, Alas we probably won’t see this incentive in our lifetimes.

    Thank you for listening to my gripe.

  • i am a single father of 2, that used to be on welfare. when the crunch came i turned to selling marijuana and cigarettes to feed my kids. to me the real crime is my kids going hungry, they do not anymore, of course the cost(or loss of taxes) to the taxpayer has ballooned from what i have done, but fuck them, they would just give themselves another raise. all politicians are pieces of shit.

  • I am a single parent with one child. I am on a disability income (welfare). I have been fighting cancer since 2004, it has been a long hard battle 24/7. Living on income assistance is just as difficult as fighting cancer. Try standing in line outside in the freezing cold winter for over an hour to get food from the food bank; and then try to get to the food bank when your going through six months of chemotheraphy and 50 radation treatments, as your child still has to eat. Other than home-care to look after my post-surgical needs that was all the care that I got. I had no one come help with housework, cooking or laundry. The government cancelled those programs. Just trying to get these chores done takes whatever strength is left in me.
    I do not get to choose were I can live because of the low shelter assistance rate of $520.00. The average 2 bedroom suite were I live is $800.00 or more. I live in sum-like conditions, dilapited housing, my hydro bill is outragious becase there is no proper installation, mice and mold are consently inside my place. My neighbours are all mentally ill, substance abuse problems, domestic volience, etc.
    I am trying to raise my son with morals and respect and hopefully no substance problems. He is very aware of our surroundings at eight years old. “Mom, Why do we have to live in such a scary place”.
    I have been on the waitlist for subsidy housing since 2004. We only have one subsidy townhouse complex in our community. It’s impossible to get in cause no one moves out, once there in.

    If the surgen who orginally preformed my double mastomy when I was 42, had told me the conditions I would be living on disability income assistance; I would have told him not to operate and let me die from cancer.

    RAISE THE RATES not just $100.00 a month, as was just passed in the Budget, but index disability assistance to the cost of living.

    I challege any one from Human Resourses or MLA to come and live beside me in the “hood” and live off what I do for six months. I don’t think they could stand a month.

    Cindy Hawkins was quoted as saying “B.C. now has the highest shelter rate for that group in Canda at $375.” – like that’s acceptable and we should be proud of that – FYI Cindy have you seen what $375.00 will get you? We have laws for animal crue.ty what about disability cruelty.

    Please don’t punish me with proverty because I got cancer and can’t work – RAISE THE RATES NOW !!

  • Well at least the BC Liberals have given us single disabled with kids or without a raise. All the NDP did was cut our cheques and encourage the general public to spit on us. The NDP made a huge mistake because Joy McPhail is a stinking rich woman from a rich family and she was calling the shots and has no clue about how to deal with labour or social justice issues. I am a disabled single mom and for the last week of any month we are eating crap from the foodbank. I am poor and socially isolated due to poverty but I still THANK GOD that Gordon Campbell is in power rather than JOY McPHAIL. That woman is a psycho.

  • my comment is i lived in the northrn bc in the dawson creek area,i am on disability.i get 902.per month. my rent is 750 then i got to lived of off 156. amth.i tried finding a cheaper place but her in dawson a 1 bedrm can start fr 900 to 1500 if the politians cant afford the rent on the money they make .then how do they think we must live on 1/4 of there pay check, thank dcormier dawson creek bc

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