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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?

 

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Raise the Rates is Hiring!

Raise the Rates is hiring a new coordinator. If you are interested please apply! Also feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested.

Raise the Rates Campaign Coordinator

Contract hours: ~ 15 – 20 hours per week
Pay rate: $20/hr. plus 15% in lieu of benefits

Commencing: Ideally during November/December 2018

Are you passionate about ending poverty? Do you believe in the ability of the grassroots to push for real change? Are you flexible, creative, and willing to learn? Raise the Rates is looking for our next Campaign Coordinator! Raise the Rates is a coalition of community organizations, faith based groups and unions working to get government to raise welfare rates, build more social housing, eliminate arbitrary barriers to accessing welfare, increase the minimum wage and raise taxes for the wealthy. Raise the Rates uses a variety of activities and events to raise public awareness of the many reasons to significantly increase the present poverty welfare rates in BC.

With a “Poverty Reduction Plan” coming to BC in Spring 2019, it is time for us to do some strategic planning, some creative actions, and reinvent the way that Raise the Rates is working from our community-based roots to push for provincial change. Up for the challenge?

Duties/Responsibilities

  • Organize actions/events involving local residents and community organizations to raise the profile of the campaign
  • Convene, support and report to regular Raise the Rates meetings
  • Act on the decisions of Raise the Rates’ meetings
  • Support Raise the Rates volunteers
  • Create media releases and organize and host press conferences to cover events of campaign
  • Liaise with local community organizations, Raise the Rates coalition partners and supporting organizations about the work and plans of Raise the Rates
  • Ensure ongoing financial stability of Raise the Rates

Skills/Knowledge

  • Strong knowledge of poverty issues and issues facing the Downtown Eastside Community
  • Previous experience leading lobbying campaigns or anti poverty campaigns
  • Excellent communication skills – both written and verbal
  • Ability to listen and treat people with respect, and build good working relationships based on trust and cooperation
  • Ability to use e-mail and social media to promote campaign

Email resume, 2 letters of reference, and a half page essay on the causes of poverty and how you think Raise the Rates should agitate for our demands to:

  • raise.the.rates17@gmail.com or
  • bill50@vcn.bc.ca

by Saturday November 17 2018.

 

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.  

 

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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.”.

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“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.

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Stupid rules of welfare? Tell us about it!

Raise the Rates is hosting a movie night on Friday, February 2nd, from 6-8pm. We will be screening I Daniel Blake and having break-out discussions about the stupid rules of welfare and the qualifications that make it impossible to get on welfare.

Because while we know that the rates need to be raised significantly, we also know the government drags their heels on increasing income assistance. In the meantime, there are so many rules and qualifications the ministry can change to make receiving assistance easier!

JOIN US for some snacks, a movie, and a conversation about how we can push back against the stupid rules of welfare.

When? Friday February 2nd 2018

What time? 6-8:30

Where? Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main St 

Light refreshments and a place to vent will be provided!

danielblake2.jpg

Contact Kell, raise.the.rates17@gmail.com for more info or to help out!

Featured, News

Justice Not Charity–for the 10000th time!

These are the reflections of our organizer, Kell, after CBC’s Food Bank Day. We hosted a pop-up rally that day to demand system change. This op-ed went out to several different media sites, and not a single one picked up. Guess it’s too hard to hear the mainstream media is failing justice movements…hmm…


The bright red band-aid shaped banner read “JUSTICE NOT CHARITY”. A dozen of us– activists, advocates, supporters of Raise the Rates– chanted and cheered outside of CBC’s Food Bank day for “justice not charity!” and “Raise the welfare rates now!” A class of grade 6 students, presumably coming for the open house tour of CBC hosted that day in conjunction with their food banks fundraiser, stand on the sidewalk and watch us, interested. I turn to them, and get them chanting with us “justice not charity!” A brave move on the part of their teacher (learning moments around every corner, on every sidewalk), I am asked to tell them a bit about what we are there to do.

   And fair enough–are we some cruel money-hungry conservatives who hate food banks? Not in the slightest. In a short three minutes, I outline that food banks began as a temporary measure….35 years ago. A temporary measure to tide over the increasing number of people in poverty experiencing food insecurity. Yet, it’s 35 years later, and the need for food banks and number of people accessing them every year is on the rise. Why? Because government hasn’t raised welfare rates to anywhere near the poverty line, or built thousands of units of social housing a year like it used to. Because government refuses to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Because, in short, the government continues to be as neglectful as it has. So we are here to push for a broader awareness that we need more than just charity: we need justice. We need a strong, inclusive, cross-ministerial poverty reduction plan. We need welfare rates to be raised significantly, and rent control, and a higher minimum wage. Solutions to poverty that we have been advocating for 35 years.

    The students nodded along, seemingly capable of grasping that if there are people drowning in a river, you need to pull the people out and also fix the hole in the bridge that put them there in the first place. Even while food banks may pull some people out of the river, relying on generosity will not change legislation. Charity, in fact, only increases the cycle of dependency and saviourism that keep people in poverty.

     What we need, on days like CBC’s Food Bank Day, is advocacy. We need a letter writing station to MLAs, we need loud protests and louder conversations that push the mainstream into understanding causes of poverty–and its solutions.

     That afternoon, I was slated for a 3 minute and 30 second interview on CBC’s live show. I figured, hey, if a class of thirty 11 year olds can understand justice not charity, in 3 minutes, surely some of the listeners will have light bulbs go off. Too bad the producer’s notes said “don’t get too political–we don’t have time”. Too bad I was ushered off stage after 2 minutes. Too bad CBC is incapable of truly supporting anti-poverty efforts; believing instead that whiskey-and-cheese donation packages deserve more airtime. I like whiskey as much as the next person, but I like justice (ending homelessness, increasing income assistance/minimum wage/old age pension, creating an affordable childcare plan, implementing and respecting UNDRIP…) infinitely more.

     It is not any more ‘political’ for me to state that you won’t end homelessness unless you raise welfare rates, than it is to say the days get darker in December. It is not a ‘radical’ thought to believe every human deserves a life of dignity, safe and affordable shelter, the ability to purchase culturally relevant food. I don’t know when those ideas became radical.

     I am here for more than generosity. I am here for deep and actual change. CBC–it’s about time you were too.