Today, Tuesday October 16, Raise the Rates launched it is Welfare Food Challenge, where people will only spend $26 for all their food for a week. This is the same amount as a single person on welfare would have for food.
For one week over 100 people across BC will take part in the Challenge, joining the over 500,000 people in BC who live in poverty and have to make do with a poor diet every week. Of course, taking the Challenge is not the same as living on welfare as the Challenge Takers will have a kitchen, a fridge, are in good mental and physical health, are doing this voluntarily and can always take a break. People on welfare have no choice but to eat in poverty and the government does not allow them to take a break.
Bill Hopwood (Raise the Rates organizer) said, “When we issued the invitation to the people of BC to take the Welfare Food Challenge we didn’t know what would happen. We have been overwhelmed with the response, across BC ordinary people have stepped forward – school students, seniors, families, university students, people from all walks of life are taking the Challenge to shine a light on poverty in the rich province of BC.”
Brent Mansfield (Co-Chair, Vancouver Food Policy Council), explained that “I knew $26 wouldn’t buy much food. But having just done my shopping for the week, and I only have a few cents left, I am shocked how little it buys. I know I am going to be hungry. I am worried about whether I will be able to get enough protein to function properly. The Canadian government says people have a right to food yet thousands here in BC do not have access to good nutritional food – this is a scandal we can end.”
Paul Taylor (ED, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House) stated, “Food is important to me it is about nutrition but it is also about community, about eating together with family and friends. On this amount of money, there will be no community. I was raised by a mother on welfare and now I understand how hard she worked to feed us. I am sad to think that every day in BC tens of thousand of families struggle to put food on the table while living in unnecessary poverty.”
Martin Johnson (Living on welfare) shared his experiences of life on welfare. “Every week and every month in BC many people eat a poverty diet. It is a constant struggle to survive and is bad for people’s health. On a poverty diet it is hard to get enough to eat and impossible to get enough nutrients, and the food is so bland and boring – there is little joy in food.”
Constance Barnes (Commissioner, Vancouver Park Board) said “My dad, the late MLA Emery Barnes, lived for over a month on the welfare rate at the time. Yet now, 26 years later, things are worse. At the Parks we have food programs so kids can get some food to eat so they are able to pay attention in school – they shouldn’t have to rely on this. We need action to end poverty in BC. I know I need vitamins and protein to be healthy and do what I have to do, but can’t afford it on the welfare money. I fear I will be grumpy and bad tempered. How can people on welfare look for work when they are hungry?”
Fraser Stuart (Living on welfare) stated, “There is a crisis, people are going hungry every day because of the low welfare rates. People need to eat good food to stay healthy so that they can look for work and get a job. Every day on welfare it takes time and energy just to survive. BC is a rich province and we can end poverty. It is time for the politicians to act.”
Trish Garner (parent and activist) explained, “I am a parent of 3 young children and it worries me that the province lets so many children go hungry every day. This can have long-term negative impacts on kids – on their health, their schooling, and their mental, physical and emotional development. Poverty damages children and adults. Yet we can fix poverty for a lot less money than the cost of poverty.”
Bill Hopwood said, “First of all a big thank you to all the people who are taking the Challenge. BC has the worst poverty with over 500,000 people in poverty; the worst child poverty with over 137,000 children in poverty; and the worst inequality in Canada. And BC is one of only 2 provinces without an anti-poverty plan. Poverty in BC costs the health system alone over $1 billion a year. The people of BC are taking this Challenge, they want action to make BC ‘the Best Place on Earth’ – it is time for the politicians to raise welfare and end poverty in BC.”