Raise the Rates Launches Welfare Food Challenge

Today, Raise the Rates launched a new challenge, the Welfare Food Challenge. This is to live for a week on the food that a single, able-bodied person on welfare would have – spending only $26!

Of the $610 a month the BC government provides for a person on welfare, after paying for accommodation, bus tickets and cellphone (necessary to look for work), and basic hygiene only $109 remains for food – less than $26 for a week. There is nothing for clothes, haircuts, or any social life.

Fraser Stuart, Raise the Rates activist living on welfare, pointed out that,

“Living on welfare every week is a struggle, in fact it is impossible, it is damaging my health.”

Ted Bruce, Executive Director of Population Health with Vancouver Coastal Health, explained why he is taking the Challenge.

“This challenge is an important way to raise people’s awareness of the significant harmful that low income has on people’s health and the personal and societal costs of poverty. Poverty causes bad diet and stress which makes people sick and costs healthcare a tonne of money.”

Trish Garner, parent and Community Organizer with BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, stated,

“I’m a parent of 3 young children under 5. I can’t believe the province allows children to go hungry on welfare. It shocks me that the government lets children go hungry for far longer than the week I will be doing the Challenge. This hunger affects children’s development – physically, socially, intellectually – and it’s simply not right that we allow it.”

Victoria Bull, DTES resident raising her granddaughter while on welfare,

“The money is not enough so for my granddaughter’s sake I try to find food – I do a lot of volunteering for food. But it is always a struggle.”

In January Jagrup Brar, MLA Surrey Fleetwood, took the MLA Welfare Challenge and over the month he lost 26 pounds in weight. He was unable to attend but he sent this message.

“I learned a great deal from my experience of living on $610, the welfare rate, for the month of January 2012. One thing I know is that it is extremely difficult to get enough nutritious food. I was often hungry and at times my head was fuzzy. I believe it is important that we shine a light on the poverty, specifically the highest child poverty that exists in BC. So I send my best wishes to the people of BC who take up the Welfare Food Challenge.”

Bill Hopwood, organizer with Raise the Rates explained that

“Raise the Rates challenges BC’s MLAs who set the welfare rate and those who think welfare payments are enough to live on, to try one week of eating as if on welfare. Raise the Rates also invites the people of BC to spend a week sharing the eating experience of people on welfare.”

Already some people who have stepped forward to do the Welfare Food Challenge:

Constance Barnes, Commissioner, Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, recognized that, “It is truly a struggle for many people and families to not only survive but maintain a healthy lifestyle on welfare. I need regular vitamins; there is no way I can afford them on $26. I am taking this challenge to bring more awareness of how hard it is to survive on welfare!”

Paul Taylor,Executive Director of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House explained,

“We apparently have a right to food in this country. Yet how can anyone exercise that right on $26/week – especially for a prolonged period of time while maintaining positive health. My hope is that this challenge highlights just how unrealistic low welfare rates are in BC.”

Colleen McGuire, a Registered Dietitian, said that,

“As a dietitian, I know the benefits of healthy eating for both physical and mental health. With the cost of food today, I can say with confidence that a person cannot achieve a balanced and healthy diet for $26 per week. I am prepared to try firsthand to eat healthy for $26 per week to bring attention to the challenges and barriers faced by people receiving income assistance.”

Brent Mansfield, Co-Chair of the Vancouver Food Policy Council,

“I feel there needs to be greater public awareness around the inadequacy of our social safety net. It is very worrying that people on income assistance cannot afford to purchase healthy food. Despite the encouraging work that I am involved in, I believe the Government needs to be doing a much better job to ensure all in BC are able to buy enough nutritious food.” 

The challenge will start on October 16, World Food Day, and will finish on October 23. The week includes World Poverty Day on October 17th.

Raise the Rates recognizes that one week is not the same as what people on welfare experience, as they have to survive for months on welfare and often lack proper cooking facilities.

Raise the Rates invites people from across BC in all walks of life to take the Welfare Food Challenge and share with friends, the media and policy makers thier experiences of a week of poverty eating.

Jean Swanson, Chair of Raise the Rates, stated that, “Tens of thousands of people in BC have to survive on this meagre amount every day.  It’s no wonder people are dumpster diving in this so-called land of plenty. We hope the Challenge will help everyone understand about the damage of poverty and that the government should increase welfare.”