Bif Naked hears poverty stories during B.C. Welfare Food Challenge
Since Bif Naked embarked on the week-long Welfare Food Challenge, many people have reached out to tell her about their experiences living in poverty.
“A lot of stories were shared,” the singer-songwriter said in an interview today (October 23).
“Many people do not live on $3 a day, they live on less. And that’s consistent over six months, nine months, a year, two years.”
The third annual challenge, which took place October 16 to 22, was organized by Raise the Rates, a coalition of organizations concerned about poverty and homelessness in the province.
Participants lived on a food budget of $21 for the week—the amount that organizers say is left over for groceries after welfare recipients pay for rent, bus tickets, and other basic expenses.
Naked’s $21 budget bought her some bananas, zucchinis, a bag of brown rice, two cans of chickpeas, lettuce, and a pint of cherry tomatoes.
She noted this wasn’t her first time subsisting on the income assistance rate—she and her band members were on welfare when they first moved to B.C. and were looking for work.
“People are victims of circumstances, and it could happen to anyone,” she said. “I think that people don’t realize how close we all are at any given time to that potential.”
One shocking aspect of the experience for Naked has been hearing misconceptions about poverty.
“I was really surprised at some of the poverty bashing that started to play out before my horrified eyes,” she recounted.
“I think that people’s misconception is that their neighbour is not on welfare—only people in one geographical area in the city are, and that’s not true.”
One of the common misconceptions, she said, is that people living in poverty choose to be poor.
Bill Hopwood, an organizer with Raise the Rates, noted he has yet to meet a single person who is on welfare out of choice.
“They’re there because of tragedy…serious injury, serious health problems, family break-up, abuse, and loss of jobs,” he told reporters at a news conference marking the end of the welfare challenge.
“They’re not things that anybody plans or sets out to have happen in their life.”
Family physician and researcher Vanessa Brcic was also among this year’s welfare challenge participants. She called the research evidence on the correlation between poverty and poor health “overwhelming.”
“Living in poverty is linked to a lower life expectancy and increased rates of every chronic disease that has been studied,” she said.
“The Canadian Medical Association in the last three years has made addressing poverty and inequities a priority issue. They communicated that priority to the federal government and I think it’s time that the B.C. government listen as well.”
Participants in the challenge, including UBC student Samantha Truong, cited impacts like low energy and social exclusion as a result of their small food budget.
“My classmates would want to grab lunch, drink coffee or something, and I wouldn’t be able to join them,” she stated. “I just kind of went my own way.”
Brcic said the experience made her realize "how both illness and obesity could result from this."
“My body was asking for more, so I ate more—of unbalanced meals that never satisfied," she said. "I had no energy for exercise or socializing, and for me, it was impossible to maintain my health and my work as a physician for this week on this little sustenance.”
Raise the Rates is calling for an increase in the welfare rate, which is $610 a month for a single, employable person in B.C.
Naked indicated she plans to continue her advocacy on the issue.
“I think the bigger picture here is how to keep the dialogue going, and how to make good use of the attention that Raise the Rates has managed to generate,” she said.
Oct 23, 2014 at 8:24pm
Many middle-income earners don't realize just how close they are to poverty. Hopefully Bif's ability to articulate her experience so well will motivate other influential personalities to take this same challenge. Empathy and compassion will build a stronger community...the arrogance of those who slap the poor believing they only need to "work" as hard as them, not so much.
Oct 24, 2014 at 9:25am
And what pisses me off is when ignorant people (assholes) say "if you want to work, then move to Thunder Bay, there's plenty of jobs there"....(did I say it those assholes really piss me off)...geeesh!!
Oct 24, 2014 at 10:45am
A guarenteed annual income would be far cheaper than the various social assistance programs on three levels of government. It would probably also make a minimum wage unnecessary. Ignorance is costing us a huge amount of money and creating a lot of misery.
Oct 24, 2014 at 11:39am
I would like to thank Bif Naked, Dr. Brici, Samantha Truong, and all the participants for their participation and the raising of awareness of the dangers for those living in such deep poverty. As Samantha noted the social isolation because of money is only one aspect of "welfare" isolation. It is so deeply shaming to be on "welfare" when one has worked all their lives that meeting new people is extra challenging. The first question most people ask each other when they meet is, "what do you do?" Also people, and "welfare" workers assume you are mentally challenged if you don't have an obvious or disfiguring disability, and if you have, like a friend on mine, Cerebral Palsey, people assume you are mentally challenged. There is no winning for anyone in this.
Everytime I hear Christy Clark say, "this is what the people of BC are willing to pay" for support I am appalled at her and her cabinets blatant disregard for the ignorance of the statement. The additional costs for the "people of BC" in increased visits to Emergency wards, medical costs for physical and mental health, and the costs of social isolation for good people who through no fault of their own end up on Social Services and commit suicide is measurable. There are actual government reports on that. Paid for by your taxes.
I wish I had all the money that the government has spent on changing the name of the "Ministry Of Social Development and Social Innovation" over the last 15 years. I cannont count how many times they have changed the Orwelian name,and cut back every service imaginable. If I had the money they have spent on changing letterhead, business cards, door signs, envelopes, website management, and forensic investigators, (yes, forensic investigators), and consultants to fire people, I could live like a queen for the rest of my life.
Of course there is abuse of the system. There is abuse of every system, especially governmental. It is one of the costs of doing business but the person born with Cerebral Palsey at St. Pauls or the soldier with PTSD should not be treated like a refugee who came from some country and owns 10 condos in the heart of downtown and has all his or her relatives on "welfare" because they own a print shop. That is not the citizens problem, it is the governments responsability both provincially and federally to deal with.
Oct 27, 2014 at 6:36pm
As an employer in Saskatchewan, i have no sympathy for able body welfare recipients. For decades under the previous local NDP government we exported our youth to the job rich Alberta and BC rather than stay and be on welfare. Now the roles are reversed, MOVE. If anything, welfare should be less generous to force the able to relocate for work. Raise disability payments to the legitimate, but welfare should be kept lean.