MLA Welfare Challenge
In 2011 Raise the Rates challenged all of BC’s MLAs to live on the single person welfare rate of $610 for a month. On January 1, 2012, Jagrup Brar, MLA Surrey Fleetwood, took up the MLA Welfare Challenge.
Over the month of January he had a real glimpse of the inadequacy of welfare rates, met many people living on welfare and learned about the many problems and barriers people on welfare face. He spent 2 weeks in Surrey, discovering that welfare poverty is widespread in BC, and 2 weeks in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. He slept in a homeless shelter, lived in an SRO, and saw the terrible housing conditions that many other people have to live in. He also saw social housing which shows it is possible to provide decent homes for people – all it takes is government action.
Time and again Jagrup heard the experiences of people on welfare – no one chose the life of poverty; almost all are on welfare due to personal tragedy: job loss, physical and mental ill-health, injury or family breakdown. He learned about the many challenges of people on welfare raising children: welfare parents receive less money than foster parents to raise their children; the government takes back any money they receive from an absent parent; and constant stress of trying to cloth, feed and support the education of children in poverty.
Jagrup constantly thought about food, what could he afford, how to stretch his money, where free food was available and most of the time he was hungry. He also discovered in Vancouver and Surrey the solidarity, compassion, humour and determination of people in poverty. At the end of the month he was in debt, had to sell his backpack to have enough money to take the Skytrain back to Surrey, and had lost 26 pound in weight.
Raise the Rates thanks Jagrup Brar for his courage and commitment in taking the Challenge. We thank all the people who helped with the month: his staff team, people in Surrey and Vancouver who organized events for Jagrup, and the people in poverty that welcomed and shared experiences with Jagrup.