Closing Press Conference for the 2014 Welfare Food Challenge
For Immediate Release
October 23, 2014
Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territory
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Raise welfare rates say Welfare Food Challenge takers
The BC government should raise welfare rates and bring in a poverty reduction plan. That was the consensus of the people who took the Welfare Food Challenge, eating only what $21 would buy for a week. There were over 100 Challenge Takers across BC of all ages and backgrounds. Several spoke at a news conference at the BC Teachers’ Federation building in Vancouver at the end of the Challenge, Oct. 23.
UBC student Samantha Truong summed up what most said when she listed 4 things that happened when she tried eating on just $21 for a week: she lacked energy, felt social exclusion because she couldn’t join classmates for meals or coffees, had to spend lots of time traveling to cheap stores, and was hungry a lot, moody and cranky. Truong set up a booth at UBC to get people to sign the Raise the Rates petition. She concluded: “$21 is not enough. You can’t be healthy on that diet.”
Singer Bif Naked said the Welfare Food Challenge helped raise awareness and dialogue about poverty. Now, she said, we need to “get welfare rates for really good people and families.” Naked said she was alarmed to hear all the misconceptions about poverty during the Challenge. “We’re going to write to Don McRae (Liberal Social Development Minister) and Michelle Mungall (NDP Social Development critic) and ask them to meet with us and let’s discover what we can do.”
“This problem that 180,000 people on welfare face has a solution,” said Irene Lanzinger, secretary treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour. “It requires only political will. We can share our resources to end poverty.”
“Food banks are overwhelmed. People are living on the sidewalk. It can’t go on like this,” said Fraser Stuart who lives the Welfare Challenge every day.
“It’s hard to maintain energy and mental health” when you have to rely on food banks and lineups and live with constant worry and frustration,” said Harold Lavender, who relies on the disability pension of $906 a month. “We need to speak out to raise the rates.”
Dr. Victoria Lee explained the difficulties of staying healthy on $21 for food over a week. She stated food became mundane, no longer satisfying or a pleasure, and she was hungry and lethargic. It is clear that that poverty is a public health issue.
Jay-Ann Gilfoy, senior vice president at Vancity Credit Union said her week doing the Challenge was a “week of physical symptoms and deep awareness of how awful it is to have to do this.” She said Vancity is behind a poverty reduction plan.
Dr. Vanessa Brcic talked powerfully about the connection between poverty and poor health. There is “indisputable evidence that reducing poverty will make us healthier,” she said. “We can’t stay silent while there is an epidemic of disease fueled by poverty.”
“None of use could survive on $21 a week. We shouldn’t expect our patients too,” added Brcic. “People at every step of the income ladder are healthier with more equality.” We need to “act with logic, evidence and compassion and raise the rates and implement a cost saving poverty reduction plan in BC.”
“People are on welfare because of misfortune, not choice,” said Raise the Rates organizer Bill Hopwood. “How can you look for a job if you had a poor diet, are exhausted, grumpy and feeling excluded,” Hopwood asked. “The system forces people to look for work when they are least able to do it.” “We need a raise in welfare,” he concluded.
This was the third annual Welfare Food Challenge sponsored by Raise the Rates to put pressure on the BC government to raise welfare rates which have been frozen for 7 years. The next step, said Hopwood, is to have meetings between Welfare Food Challenge takers and the Liberal Minister and NDP critic for Social Development, the government department that controls welfare rates. They need to act to end the suffering of poverty and the waste of $billions that poverty cost BC every year.
Raise the Rates
Bill Hopwood: 604 738-1653, 778 686-5293 (cell); bill50 @ vcn.bc.ca