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.

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