NDP MLA Jagrup Brar takes Raise the Rates poverty challenge
As a member of the legislative assembly, Jagrup Brar has a very comfortable life. In the last fiscal year, the NDP representative for Surrey-Fleetwood earned a salary of $101,859 and collected a capital-city allowance of $14,590 to offset the cost of staying in Victoria for part of the year.
But on Sunday (January 1), Brar will start a one-month experiment to simulate what it’s like to be on social assistance. In a recent interview with the Georgia Straight at the B.C. NDP convention, he explained that he will try to survive for a month on $610, which is what a single employable welfare recipient receives in this province. The first 16 days of January will be spent in Surrey and he’ll live in Vancouver for the rest of the month.
“The key here is that I want to experience firsthand what life is like to be a poor person in B.C.,” Brar said. “So having said that, I made the commitment to make this as real as possible.”
Brar, the Opposition critic for small business, mentioned that he will start his adventure at the Surrey Central SkyTrain station on New Year’s Day as a homeless person. From there, he will seek services to help him find shelter, rather than living at home with his wife and two children.
Brar said that he plans to set aside $450 for housing in January. That’s because after conducting some research, he concluded that it’s not possible to find cheaper accommodation. In addition, he will spend $42 on transit passes and $25 on a cellphone.
“I have to be searching for a job, technically, because I’m a single employable individual,” he revealed. “If I search for a job, I have to be mobile, so I have to have a bus pass. That’s also why I have to have a phone.”
After these expenditures, Brar will be left with $3 a day to cover everything else, including food. By living on the same amount as a welfare recipient, he said he will better understand how poverty affects people. Brar, an immigrant from India, also wants to bring awareness of this issue to the broader population.
“It’s hard for me to believe, coming from a third-world country, that we have in this province 137,000 children living below the poverty line,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that we have roughly half a million people below the poverty line.”
B.C. hasn’t raised its income-assistance rates since 2007. An employable single parent (whose child is three years or older) receives $945.58, including a $570 shelter allowance.
Brar revealed that he decided to live like a poor person for a month in response to a challenge from Raise the Rates, which is a coalition of community groups concerned about poverty. He mentioned that his 12-year-old daughter urged him to do it because it might make a difference. “My wife, of course, is concerned about my health, but other than that, she admires that I’m doing it,” Brar stated.
A spokesperson for Raise the Rates, Jean Swanson, told the Straight by phone that her group issued a dare in May to all MLAs, including Premier Christy Clark and NDP Leader Adrian Dix, to live on the welfare rate for a month. Brar was the only one who accepted.
“We’re pleased he’s going to do it,” Swanson said. “It won’t really be like living on welfare, but it will give him a little taste of what it’s like to be poor. We’re hoping it will raise consciousness about how low welfare rates are and about some of the punitive welfare rules—like not being able to keep a cent of what you earn, and not being able to keep a cent of child support.”
Swanson added that her group has found Brar a single-room-occupancy hotel room for when he’s in Vancouver, but she wouldn’t reveal the location.
She noted that a former NDP politician, Emery Barnes, was the last MLA to live on a welfare recipient's income, doing this for seven weeks in early 1986.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.