News

Pulling Teeth: Budget 2019 a big disappointment

Commenting from unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories, known as Vancouver–

After a year of poverty reduction “consultations” with the BC government, we at Raise the Rates are extremely disappointed to see that they did not hear us. Another year of rapidly rising housing prices, unlivable costs of living, and government inaction on welfare and disability rates means more suffering, trauma, and deepening debt for folks living on income assistance.

It’s true: this year, the government announced an increase to rates. By $50. Now a single person on income assistance is receiving $760 per month.

This $50 proves to us that the government really did not listen to the deep, meaningful, visionary words and work that we and our anti-poverty allies brought to the table. It demonstrates to us that people in the depth of poverty don’t matter in light of the “fiscal responsibilities” of the government, and aren’t worth investing valuable money into.

We know what it takes: a mere 1.16billion in bringing up income assistance rates to the poverty line in BC. This is only 1% of the provincial GDP. What we are starting to realize is that the government cannot be bothered to spend even 1%. 1% of its wealth to drastically change the lives of the over 180 000 people living on income assistance.

An increase of $50 is half of the increase that the government gave to income assistance in September 2017.

They seem to care about 50% less now. And it’s not looking great for the future.

It begs the question, are we at the dentist? Because getting any government in BC to care about people on income assistance seems to be like pulling teeth (and the astronomical bill that comes after).

We told them: raise welfare rates. Raise disability rates. If not to the federal poverty line (market basket measure), at least commit to 75% of the poverty line.

We told them: make sure to tie rents to the unit, and not the tenant, so landlords can stop taking advantage of low-income people to make a profit off our human right to housing.

We told them: create a more equitable, accessible assistance system, that is actually here for the support of vulnerable and targeted populations.

We told them: make a poverty reduction plan that has no holes, no gaps, no lack of communication between ministries because everyone pays for poverty, and every ministry is responsible for an equitable plan.

We supported the work of many other groups who have been saying the same things for many years, in many different ways.

We urged them to end poverty, or at least reduce poverty. Instead they have entrenched poverty for those in the deepest poverty and the greatest need.

Who exactly was the government listening to?

News

Support from All Sides!

We wanted to share the important words that some of our allies in the charitable sector have passed along. It is crucial that we ALL raise our voices to demand an increase in our income assistance system. This is a really crucial piece that proves our government wants to walk the talk of poverty reduction, and of ensuring that our system is working to support and lift up poor, low-income and disabled communities.

Be like UGM and write a letter to support the call to raise welfare and disability rates this Budget in 2019. Write to let the government know you care, and you are watching, and their decision matters! Letter of Support - Raise the Rates (1).jpg

Letter of Support from UGM – Raise the Rates!

News

Ask the Government to #ProveIt: Care about ending poverty? Well then Raise the Rates!

This is it. 

This is our final push. A year and a half ago, we never imagined having the chance we have now. And so, this is our time. In February 2019, the provincial budget will be announced. This is the moment when we will see if our government is serious about ending poverty–or not.

Welfare and disability rates have been so low for so long it is practically criminal. And we have heard this new government say that they care about reducing poverty, that they are listening. But we are here in this final stretch to ask them to Prove It.

We are asking you, Raise the Rates supporter, to email/send a letter to: 

Minister Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction: SDPR.Minister@gov.bc.ca 

Minister Carole James, Minister of Finance (really important to have this ministry support a mandate for poverty reduction!): FIN.Minister@gov.bc.ca

And your own MLA (because they are supposed to care about your interests!)

Tell the government that you need to see them raise welfare rates in this budget. That it is time they #walkthetalk, put the money where their consultation-mouth is, and #ProveIt.

Prove they care about the people in the deepest depths of poverty.

Prove they are serious and reducing and ending poverty by reducing that depth of poverty.

Prove they want to take real, tangible action.

So, what do you do?

  1. Open your email browser, or choose your favourite pen and paper.
  2. Introduce yourself with your name, where you live, any relevant details of your life (Do you work at a non-profit? Are you in poverty? Do you access foodbanks? Donate to foodbanks? Are you an academic, city councillor, politician, activist, parent, concerned person?) and why you care about ending poverty. 
  3. Include the reasons why you need to see welfare and disability rates raised. Remember: we want to see rates at the Federal Market Basket Measure (around $1600/month for a city like Vancouver).  Tell your story. The government “knows” the facts, and they know the numbers. What they need to know is why you care, and why this matters to you.  Here are a few other reasons: because raising welfare and disability means saving money for our province, because 1 in 5 children are in poverty in this province (and that’s because their parents are in poverty!), because it’s entirely possible and not even that expensive to end deep poverty in BC!!! 
  4. Make this letter personal, polite, and passionate.

Include Raise the Rates on your message (raise.the.rates17@gmail.com) , and get your friends, neighbours, and co-workers to write a letter as well!  

Featured, News

CANCELLED: Welfare Food Challenge 2018

After 6 years of running the Welfare Food Challenge, we decided to write a cookbook for 2018. What should have been the 7th year of challenging the public to understand how hard it is to eat on welfare for 7 days (let alone how hard it is to live, day in day out, 365 days of the year)

The cookbook is empty.

It is nearly impossible to live on welfare in 2018.

Why?

Because the $100 increase to rates has brought about an approximately $130 increase in rents to Single Room Occupancy hotels (SRO hotels) in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which is what we base our calculations off of this year.

This year, in 2018, one year after we saw the first dismal increase to income assistance rates in over a decade, there is a mere $23 left for the entire month.

$710 on assistance. $687 for an average SRO. $23 for the month. Less than $6 for the week.

We cannot ask people to attempt a “challenge” on $5.75 for the week.

What this means is that our government currently has a choice. They can choose to either entrench poverty, through maintaining rates at this level, or providing only incremental increases, or to end poverty, through bringing back vacancy control to tie rent to the unit and by significantly raising the rates so that the depth of poverty no longer drowns people.

You can read Jean Swanson’s reflections on this here.

And you can help us to push for change by getting in touch with us at raise.the.rates17@gmail.com.

Write to Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Entrenchment–err, Reduction, to let him know that you support a significant increase to raise welfare rates: SDPR.Minister@gov.bc.ca

And write to Selina Robinson, Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs, to encourage her to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to include vacancy control: MAH.Minister@gov.bc.ca

Make sure to reach out to your local MLA and let them know that you support Raise the Rates and you want to see real action to end poverty!

Now is the time to make the choice: end poverty, or entrench it?

 

News

(re)New Demands: From Talk to Action!

FROM TALK TO ACTION:  RAISE THE RATES PUTS FORWARD RENEWED DEMANDS

Raise the Rates is a campaign supported actively by more than twenty different activist and community groups concerned about the fatal levels of poverty and homelessness in the province of BC. We have been working since 2006 to push the government to raise welfare rates, amongst other policy changes to end poverty.

We know that the BC government is in stages of consultation, feedback, and planning to develop BC’s Poverty Reduction Plan, with a deadline of the fall 2018 for the strategy, and February 2019 with a budget that will lay out the targets and timelines for reducing poverty.

It is time for what we need.

These pieces are not requests from the government, but demands. We demand that the government commit to tackling the depth of poverty through the province. Prioritizing and centring the needs of communities who are deepest in poverty and suffering most through our various crises around the province (homelessness, child apprehension, overdoses, precarious and dangerous work, etc) will lift everyone up.

After years of doing this work, and working to broaden and deepen our understanding of the consequences of poverty, we present our demands for this government, and for future leaders to come. Ending poverty is not only possible, but in everyone’s best interests.

We demand:

  •  Raising welfare rates to the federal market basket measure (about $1600/mo for a single person in a city); with disability rates about $300 a month higher;
  • Bringing in real rent control so landlords can’t raise rents as much as they like between tenancies;  if this is not done probably at least half of any extra money that low income people get through minimum wage increases or welfare increases will go to landlords;
  • Building about 10,000 units of social housing a year that is safe, community-controlled, dignified housing that low income people can afford; while the government has talked about social housing, they haven’t committed to building enough to end homelessness and BC Housing wait lists; AND Ending homelessness right away with modular housing; and exploring community-led, community-controlled options for housing
  • Overhauling the child welfare system in BC that disproportionately targets Indigenous and racialized mothers in poverty; take the lead from communities in slowing and halting the rate of child apprehensions through preventive measures, supports and actual reconciliation work;
  • A comprehensive transit strategy including sliding scale low-income passes and free for youth under 18; transit is an essential piece of community connection;  
  • Restoring taxes on the rich to pay for these and challenging inequalities and inequities everywhere in our current system. Since the year 2000 the Liberals have been reducing taxes so that now government doesn’t have the revenue to meet people’s needs for services.  Unless taxes are restored we can’t get what we need; and unless we turn meaningfully to a system based on justice and equity, we will see the same damages done to our communities.

What is clear to us here is that there are several essential components that must be included in this Poverty Reduction Plan for it to actually look at reducing poverty, and move towards actually ending it. The components we put forward come for decades of anti-poverty organizing in low-income neighbourhoods, primarily on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh lands in so-called Vancouver. Several different community groups organized our own consultations, and we have heard much from our friends, neighbours, allies, and strangers. It is clear that we cannot just sit back now and expect the government to get it right; too long have governments boasted about “consultation” without any action, follow-through, or choosing just to cherry-pick the easiest solutions.  

 

News

Not Surprised: Government Can (easily) Afford to End Deep Poverty.

So you may have seen that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives​ recently came out with the numbers and amounts it would take to end deep poverty and raise income assistance and disability rates. Haven’t seen it? TAKE A LOOK:

http://www.policynote.ca/deep-poverty-bc-government-can-and-should-end-it/

Government has literally claimed that it costs too much to end poverty for YEARS. This proves them WRONG.
It would cost ~$365 million dollars to raise everyone on social assistance to 75% of the poverty line (called the Market Basket Measure/MBM by the federal government).

Around 180 000 people rely on social assistance.
Essentially: every $1 million invested, you raise ~2000 people out of deep poverty. EXCUSE. ME. How many millions in tax cuts, rebates, evasion do the rich indulge in every day? ENOUGH TO END POVERTY is my bet.

To raise EVERYONE to 100% (aka out of poverty) of the MBM, it would cost around $1.16billion– recognizing that nearly half that number is people with disabilities, for whom assistance is not “last resort”.

Above all– the government has this money today. Could change lives tomorrow.

We’ve been asking for this for actual decades. Government has either ignored us or said “not achievable, not conceivable, not affordable”.
👀👀👀So then you just want people to suffer in deep poverty? To literally die on your watch, for keeping people in poverty, for promoting status quo/cater to the rich agenda?

We make all these appeals– government ignores.
We say, “ignoring poverty costs more!! than!! ending!! it!!!!” — government ignores.

Face the facts : the numbers speak for themselves, even when ethics, moral duty, basic human decency fails. No more excuses. Raise the rates.

“Any way one slices it, we can afford to end poverty in BC and we can most certainly eliminate deep poverty. The BC government can and should budget in 2019 to get all British Columbians on welfare to at least 75% of the MBM poverty line.”.

News

“It’s Not Fair the Way They Treat Us”: Raise the Rates Poverty Reduction Submission

At the end of March, we submitted a report to the provincial government for their Poverty Reduction Consultations. After 10 years of organizing, and three weeks of outreach and surveys, we had a few things to say:

Raise the Rates’ Poverty Reduction Plan Submission, March 2018

Raise the Rates is a coalition group made up of nearly fifty different activist and service provider groups concerned about the fatal levels of poverty and homelessness in the province of BC. We have been working since 2006 to push the government to raise welfare rates, amongst other policy changes to end poverty.

In the past decade that Raise the Rates has been organizing, we have seen homelessness levels soar, claw backs on income assistance devastate families, use of food banks and survival services increase drastically, rents spiral out of control and more violence and stigma (what we call poor-bashing) against poor people who live in neighbourhoods being gentrified at rapid fire pace. Through this, we have also seen and supported countless rallies, protests, actions and op-eds countering the mainstream idea that poor people ‘deserve it’, or simply need to ‘budget better’, as well as calling for real, concrete solutions to change the materials conditions of almost 600,000 peoples’ lives. We have sponsored the annual Welfare Food Challenge to show government and the public that welfare rates are too low to live on.

The consequences of poverty are far-reaching, from the devastating realities of children growing up in poverty, low literacy rates, to cycles of violence being perpetuated against vulnerable communities, to billions of dollars spent (wasted) on incarcerating people for living outside/survival activities as well as crimes of desperation, higher hospital bills, lower life expectancy for low income people,  and expensive fast fixes to issues of homelessness. The cost of poverty is too high. The cost of inaction is too high, clocked at around $8-9 billion per year. Comparatively, according to the CCPA’s 2011 report “The Cost of Poverty in BC”, a comprehensive poverty reduction plan is between $3-4 billion per year.

For us, the main demands for the BC government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy absolutely must include:

  • Raising welfare rates to the federal market basket measure (about $1600 for a single person in a city); with disability rates about $300 a month higher;
  • Bringing in real rent control so landlords can’t raise rents as much as they like between tenancies; if this is not done probably at least half on any extra money that low income people get through minimum wage increases or welfare increases will go to landlords;
  • Building about 10,000 units of social housing a year that low income people can afford; while the government has talked about social housing, they haven’t committed to building enough to end homelessness and BC Housing wait lists;
  • Ending homelessness right away with modular housing; and
  • Restoring taxes on the rich to pay for these; Since the year 2000 the Liberals have been reducing taxes so that now government doesn’t have the revenue to meet people’s needs for services.  Unless taxes are restored we can’t get what we need.

These must be included in the legislation, in order to ensure action and funding to follow through on promises to ‘reduce poverty’. Depth of poverty (i.e. how far below the poverty line people are) must be tackled through raising income assistance and disability rates, ending punitive claw-back measures on welfare, and raising the minimum wage for all workers. We support all of the recommendations put forward in the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s submission, and strongly encourage the government to consider implementing their poverty reduction plan, with its strong and necessary targets and timelines for tackling major points that lead to ending poverty.

 

 

 

Speaking to the Community

 

Over the course of a few weeks, we spoke to over 80 people. Average age was around 50 years old, with around 33% of people living in social housing, 21% in single room occupancy hotels, 33% homeless or living in shelters, and the rest living in other housing (Native housing, with parents, or one person in a condo). The survey was conducted in a way that allowed folks to approach the volunteers to answer the questions. Women made up 33% of the people we talked to, with 65% being men, and one person who was transgender. These numbers don’t reflect the adverse affects poverty has on women and gender minorities, likely a fault of our methodology. We didn’t collect information on people’s ethnic or racial make-up, but the diversity was fairly well reflective of much of the downtown eastside community.

 

The top issues that people said they wanted to see in a poverty reduction plan: raising welfare and disability rates (as well as concern for pension and seniors living on fixed income), building social housing for low-income people, raising the minimum wage and providing more support for finding and keeping jobs, and taxing the rich.

 

On Welfare: “It’s Not Fair the Way They Treat Us”

 

When asked if they believed rates should be raised to the Market Basket Measure of $1600/mo for a single person in Vancouver on income assistance ($1900 for disability), 88% of people responded yes. The other 12% were not outright “no”, but rather had concerns that if rates went up, then so would rent. This was such a resounding factor in the conversations we had, that rent control must be a (low-cost) move the province includes in a poverty reduction strategy.  Folks living in subsidized housing found that disability was adequate for what they needed, but recognized that it would be impossible if you had to live in market rentals.

 

Asked if folks had applied for welfare before, 86% replied they were currently on assistance or PWD. There was a large number of people who had applied “a while ago”, over 20 years, and they did not have issues with the application. Some of the issues that were raised around applying for assistance include:

-long wait-times, especially on the phone

-clawbacks of income from other sources (especially pension, and being forced onto an early pension) are extremely punitive and make it very difficult to live on

-long period before receiving first cheque

-a very difficult to understand application process, “It’s like you have to be a lawyer to apply”, and people saying that even with advocates it is hard

-crisis grants are too small and impossible to get, “you have to beg and cry”

-not being able to talk to a person; and the flip side of that, which is having to tell your story to too many workers

The biggest issue, on top of the totally inadequate rates, that people reported was the attitude they were met with in the office. Stigma, poor-bashing, discrimination, tone, lack of empathy: “the whole process is very degrading”, “talking to the workers they make you feel like crap”, “very rude and ignorant staff”, being some of the comments we heard. This is not to be read as the worker’s fault so much as it is the government’s policies of diversion, and management culture, at fault. Vulnerable, marginalized people, carrying the weight of survival on their shoulders, deserve dignity, equity, to be treated like a human being and not a burden or a strain on the system. A robust social welfare net looks after people who are struggling, and does not cast them out on the street like that’s all they deserve.

Recommendations:

-guaranteed raise to income assistance and disability rates to meet $1600/month for a single person;

-end policies of diversion and stigmatizing work culture practices in ministry offices; engage in empathy training;

-bring back the system of “20 years ago”, with individual case workers, well-funded crisis grants, and more supports and advocates available to help with applications;

-end punitive clawbacks on income assistance and disability cheques;

-work with community groups and clients to reform the entire ministry’s service-delivery model to provide dignified service

 

On Housing: “Not Just Container Housing”!

 

Without fail, housing was the biggest concern people were facing. This emphasizes the necessity of having a robust, cross-ministerial poverty reduction plan, that cuts across government silos and looks at comprehensive solutions. When asked if the government needs to commit to more social housing for low-income people, 96% of people responded YES, and that it was a top priority for them. The 3 other people stressed it was important to have the housing be across neighbourhoods (i.e. not focused solely in the Downtown Eastside), and to be culturally relevant and at rents that would not strain a fixed income.

 

Again, the importance of rent control was brought up. This is a measure the government can implement immediately that would have profound effects on the stability and availability of housing options for people in poverty. Many people brought up concerns around supports for people struggling with mental health, and folks with addictions being able to access support should they want to. Raise the Rates supports the building of temporary modular housing as fast and efficiently as possible, in order to reduce BC Housing Waitlists, but we know that what people need are permanent homes, in good repair and in safe condition. The appalling comments of people living in SROs, and also in some social housing units (both non-profit and government run), about their housing conditions underlines the necessary measures needed to enforce maintenance by-laws and provide a standard of upkeep that allows people to live with dignity.

 

Concern was expressed for women, children, and families, and that having stable housing to allow families to “get back on their feet” to ensure their children aren’t being apprehended was a major concern.

 

Recommendations:

-invest in and immediately commit to building 10 000 units of social housing per year (at welfare and pension rates), to accommodate the massive need that has been gutted in the last 40 years of austerity policy

– implement vacancy control; that is, rent that is tied to a unit and not to a tenant, to protect what few remaining homes are available at affordable rates

-end homelessness right away by building temporary modular housing units

-end discriminatory rental policies, which disproportionately affect single mothers with children, racialized people, people with disabilities and LGBTQ2S people

 

Comments: “Everybody in this world counts”

 

When asked how governments can end poverty, a majority of respondents replied “they can’t”, “they won’t”, “they don’t want to”. One thing that was made clear in the weeks we did this survey, was how much distrust/mistrust has grown between people and the government. Years and years of hearing talk but no action has led to a very understandable level of cynicism. Homelessness has rampantly increased, cost of living is through the roof (if people can even afford to keep one over their head), the overdose crisis is killing thousands of valuable lives, police brutality is increasing against poor and racialized communities, and in all of this, the rich are getting richer.

 

Other issues that must be addressed include:

 

-free transit for low-income people, or a subsidized transit program

-training for people to take programs that will increase their employability, and more programs to support them into the workforce

-better paying and better quality jobs

-need better pharmacare for low-income people

-more education, and easier access to education

-less wait times for accessing all services (healthcare, detox, mental health supports, housing): “You can die waiting for help”

-end tax evasion, and push the federal government to close tax loopholes

-“government wants to keep people stupid”

-better support for, and less discrimination against, people with addictions

-crackdown on landlords/slumlords breaking laws and exploiting people

-an overhaul of police systems, and create more community accountability and less police on the streets

-end drug trafficking

-going to the “root cause” of problems, which different people defined as: capitalist system making real solutions impossible, dealing with people’s trauma of residential schools and colonization, breaking cycles of poverty and violence in children’s lives, “to make sure babies aren’t being ripped from their families”, “governments aren’t supposed to raise kids”, better care for mental illness

-charity and charitable businesses take advantage of the poor and make money off of them, instead of focusing on solutions that will end poverty

-tax the rich, and make them pay their fair share in progressive income taxes

-can’t afford to build any pipelines, expand fish farms, build site C or engage in any damaging environmental project; support investment into green technology that doesn’t violate Indigenous sovereignty

-higher earnings exemptions

-need more health clinics and overdose prevention sites, as well as counselling services and treatment centres on demand (not 6 months after someone wants to get clean)

-better coordination between municipal, provincial and federal governments

-need stronger unions and better jobs back

-housing as a human right, not a commodity

-control gentrification and  provide more affordable services, especially food grocers, in poor neighbourhoods

-more drop-in centres

-more native housing for elders and families

-better public education on classism and poor-bashing

-support outreach centres and local groups doing community organizing

We strongly support and echo the calls of the community for self-determined solutions to poverty, and we urge the government to work hard, internally and externally, in policy, legislation and conduct, of commonly held belief that: “the government are the people making this problem, and they don’t listen to us”. Listen closely, and then take bold action to change business-as-usual. Give us something to thrive on.