On Friday, December 5, Raise the Rates with Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS), Carnegie Community Action Program (CCAP), Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), Aboriginal Front Door and Downtown Eastside residents organized a march and rally of over 70 people for the 3rd annual Poor People’s Radio Show outside the CBC.
After 32 years of Food Banks in BC and 28 years of the CBC raising money for the Food Banks we want to know when is society going to end the need for Food Banks. Food Banks alleviate symptoms, hunger, for a few days, but do not tackle the cause – poverty. They were established as a “temporary” measure; but are now an institution – a tragic, permanent acceptance of mass poverty in the rich province of BC.
Einstein said “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” After 32 years of Food Banks, with increasing hunger, it is time to change. Food Banks Canada states that, “without poverty, food banks would not need to exist.”
The poverty line in BC is around $1,500 a month so, as no one should live in poverty, Raise the Rates proposes that the welfare rate should be $1,500 a month (with a Person with Disabilities rate of $1,800 a month). This, linked with minimum wage of $15 an hour, would end poverty. We say fifteen hundred and fifteen in ’15.
The Poor People’s Radio hour-long show included moving speeches, uplifting songs from Solidarity Notes Choir and drumming. Victoria Bull opened the show with an acknowledgment of standing on unceded Coast Salish territory. The co-hosts, Tracey Morrison and Wendy Pederson, guided the show. Audrey Seagal, a Musqueam activist, spoke about her own experiences of poverty and the links to wider social injustice. Harold Lavender, Richard Cunningham and Kombii Nanjalah all spoke of their experiences of poverty. They pointed out that the present welfare system neither works to support people, who through misfortune, are on welfare nor benefits wider society.
Fraser Stewart proposed that, after 28 years of the CBC raising money for Food Banks, the CBC should have a serious discussion on Food Bank Day of the actions needed to end the need for Food Banks. It would be a great achievement if 2015 was the last Food Bank Day as BC was ending poverty.
Bill Hopwood, from Raise the Rates, stated that as BC is a rich province there is no reason for poverty – poverty is the result of political decisions about the priorities. As BC is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan, in 2015 the provincial government should enact a program to end poverty.
A full anti-poverty program, rising welfare and the minimum wage, providing low cost childcare and building social housing, would cost less than $4 billion a year but would save the $8 billion the province currently wastes on the costs of poverty. Ending poverty would save around $4 billion a year, create jobs and make BC a much happier place.
The Poor People’s Radio ended with a minute of silence remembering the people who died of poverty in the last year.
Food Bank use is increasing in BC, up 3.6% last year and still up 25% since the recession of 2008. Last year the CBC raised $655,147, which shows the generosity of BC people and sounds like a lot of money. However, this is only $6.73 for each of the 97,369 people who used Food Banks in 2014 – less than one day’s healthy eating!
A recent report by Put Food in the Budget pointed out that in 2013 CBC sponsored 19 seasonal charity programs for Food Banks. These generated a total of 1,868,000 pounds of food which, when divided by the 1.7 million people who visit a Food Bank in Canada in a year, equals 1.1 pounds of food per person year. This is only one third of one day’s food needed for each recipient.
We call upon BC’s politicians to follow the old phrase “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Ask yourselves, how can you justify wasting money and making people live in poverty because of misfortune or having a very low paying job? It is time to do the right thing and in 2015 raise welfare to $1,500 a month and the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
• CCPA, 2011, The Cost of Poverty in BC
• Food Banks Canada, Hunger Count 2014
• Put Food in the Budget, 2014, Who banks on food banks in Canada
• Provincial Health Services Authority, 2014, Food costing in BC 2013