Raise the Rates is a coalition of community groups and organizations concerned with the level of poverty and homelessness in British Columbia. We focus on those in the worst poverty: people living on welfare.
At the start of 2012 we organized the MLA Welfare Challenge. Raise the Rates challenged all BC MLAs to live on the welfare rate for single able-bodied person of $610 for a month. Jagrup Brar, MLA Surrey-Fleetwood, took up the challenge and discovered how difficult is to survive. He ended up borrowing money and selling possessions to get through the month. He recognized that by the end his brain was fuzzy, he was low in energy and lost 26 pounds in weight over the month. Yet, compared to people on welfare, he lived on the $610 voluntarily, he started the month fit and healthy, and he only did one month. Imagine what welfare does to people over a longer period of time.
We have run the Welfare Food Challenge since 2012. This invites people in British Columbia to live on the amount of money a person on welfare has to purchase food for a week – $21. The Dietitians of Canada in their report The Cost of Eating in BC point out that the cost of basic healthy food is more that the total amount of money that welfare provides for all subsistence – food, personal hygiene, clothes, travel, etc.
We are asking people to spend no more than $21 on food for the one week, and to keep a record of their experiences and allow us to publicize their week. We will publicize their experiences, what they ate, how they tried to get by and the reality that this is not enough money to have a healthy diet. We hope that a number of people, from school students to politicians, chefs to community leaders, will take up the Challenge. The aim of the Challenge is to raise public understanding of the inadequacy of welfare and the harm it does to individuals and society.
BC has one of the highest rates of poverty in Canada. Poverty causes ill-health with higher hospital rates and poor people die 10 years earlier; children’s mental and physical development suffers because of poverty; and poverty is degrading to people, causing stress and emotional damage. The cost of poverty in BC is greater than the cost of ending it.
If you are interested in the Challenge – taking it on, helping to build awareness, etc – please contact Kell Gerlings, Raise the Rates organizer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 778.871.0141.