Once Downtown Eastside resident Christine Mcadam pays her rent, she’s left with a budget of $200 for the rest of the month.
It’s an amount that she has found “impossible” to live on, since she quit her part-time job two months ago for health reasons and began receiving income assistance.
The tight budget means that even expenses like bus fare to get to job interviews are unaffordable, she said.
“It’s impossible to try and get ahead,” Mcadam told the Straight in an interview as she pushed a cart of empty bottles she’d collected.
Mcadam made the comments during a march along East Hastings Street Tuesday (March 31)—part of a weeklong series of actions urging an increase to B.C.’s income-assistance rates.
Bill Hopwood, an organizer with Raise the Rates, said the actions were timed to mark eight years since welfare rates were increased, on April 1, 2007. In B.C., a single person expected to work earns $610 a month, while a single person on disability earns $906.
“Nobody else in the province has waited eight years without getting any increase in pay,” said Hopwood.
The provincial government recently announced a change to the income and disability assistance program to allow single parents to stay on assistance for up to a year while they train for a new job.
Under the initiative, 16,000 single parents receiving assistance will also have costs covered during training, including childcare and transportation to and from school, according to a March 11 government news release.
Hopwood and other advocates argue a broader change is needed. According to Trish Garner of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, B.C. has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada, with one in 10 residents living in poverty.
“I can’t believe we’re still here, still fighting for a raise after eight long years,” she said as the march concluded outside Canada Place.
“Six hundred and ten was inadequate then—it’s totally, completely inadequate now.”
According to Garner, more than 170,000 people in B.C. are living on welfare or disability assistance.
“Over 170,000 people in this deep, deep poverty, not able to afford food and rent and other basic needs,” she said. “We’re now the very last province to have no poverty-reduction plan.”
Downtown Eastside resident Tracey Morrison, who is on disability, was also among the march participants Tuesday. She noted that she recently waited an hour and a half on the phone to make a request for a $20 crisis supplement for people on income assistance.
When she was asked to give a reason for her request, Morrison responded: “because I’m hungry”.
“The guy said that’s not a good enough reason,” she said in an interview as the march paused at Victory Square. “It just made me want to cry because being hungry wasn’t good enough to get $20.”
Hopwood said the group wants to see regular welfare rates increased to $1,500 a month, and for people on disability to receive $1,800 monthly. Raise the Rates is also backing the campaign for a $15 minimum wage in B.C.
“If you look at the cost of poverty, tackling this would save money in the long-term, in terms of health costs, criminal justice costs, [and] education costs,” said Hopwood.