During the 2013 provincial election campaign, the B.C. NDP disappointed anti-poverty advocates with its plan regarding income assistance.
New Democrats promised to raise welfare rates by $20 within two years as part of their platform to reduce income inequality and address child poverty.
Activist said at that time that the increase of hardly a dollar per day will make no difference in the lives of the needy.
New Democrats lost the election, and another one is coming up in 2017.
In a recent interview, the party’s spokesperson for social development was asked about discussions in caucus on what may be expected in the B.C. NDP’s platform regarding welfare rates.
“We haven’t begun formal deliberations around a platform for 2017,” Michelle Mungall told the Georgia Straight by phone.
According to the Nelson-Creston MLA, “There’s no doubt that there’s a consensus that the rates, which haven’t been raised since 2007, are very low, and that a rate increase is desperately needed.”
A single person expected to return to work currently receives $610 a month. People on disability get $906, an amount that will be increased by $77 in September this year, although much of this will be clawed back for transit.
Mungall was asked if the party will use its last pledge of a $20 increase as a starting point in deliberations about income assistance rates.
“No,” the second-term representative replied. “I can’t see that happening because it was in our last election platform. We didn’t win that election. And so when we go into a platform process, we’re starting from scratch. And we’re starting with current realities with what people are dealing with today.”
So will an increase be part of the next B.C. NDP election platform?
“I don’t want to make a commitment outside of that formal process,” Mungall said. “That would be very disrespectful to my party and my colleagues.”
Meantime, Mungall said that she will again introduce a private member’s bill calling for a poverty reduction plan in B.C.
This will be the fourth time that she will do that, and fifth for the party. “It remains ignored by the [B.C.] Liberals, and we are the only province without such a plan,” she said.
According to anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson, she hasn’t seen any concrete indication that the B.C. NDP will top its previous $20 promised increase.
Swanson said that although New Democrats talk about a poverty reduction strategy, they “won’t talk about raising welfare rates” in that plan.
“They’re afraid that poor bashers won’t vote for them,” Swanson told the Straight by phone.
“I tried to compare it with homophobia,” Swanson also said. “You know, they wouldn’t … not call for gay rights because some people are homophobes. So why would you not call for welfare rate increase because people are poor bashers? Mind you, they’ve never admitted that that’s why they won’t call for welfare rate increase.”
Mungall explained that the anti-poverty plan that had been proposed in the legislative assembly by the B.C. NDP cannot call for an increase in income assistance because it’s a private member’s bill.
“A private member is prohibited by parliamentary process to put forth legislation that directly deals with any type of finances, whether it’s expenditure or revenue generating,” the MLA said.
Activist Adrienne Montani suggested that the provincial government is waiting for the next move by the federal government around a new child tax benefit.
According to Montani, the pattern has been that the province has frozen income assistance rates as the national government increased child benefits.
“The federal child tax benefit, even under the previous Conservative government was indexed and was going up, and even previous to that, when it was a Liberal government,” Montani told the Straight by phone. “All during that time, [provincial] welfare rates have been frozen.”