Could you survive on $18 a week? Vancouver residents share day-one struggles of the Welfare Food Challenge

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      It won’t surprise anybody to hear that getting by on just $18 of food per week is an unpleasant experience.

      Yesterday (October 16), B.C.’s Welfare Food Challenge kicked off in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The annual event is designed to attract attention to the province’s welfare rate and how little money it leaves recipients for sustenance.

      Less than 24 hours later, well-known Vancouver residents taking part in the challenge have already shared difficulties they are having adhering to the rules of the game.

      Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer has done the Welfare Food Challenge before, in a way. Some time ago, she lived on the streets and relied on social assistance during those years. Reimer emphasized that even having learned from past experience, surviving on $18 a week is no easy feat.

      “Margarine, while incredibly unhealthy, is both the cheapest calories money can buy and the most versatile fat so it's a must,” she wrote on Facebook. “Barley is the cheapest carb, beans on sale are the best protein, and the noodles are both high calorie and have the all important flavour packet. The coffee is $1 of purely wasted nutrition money but not having a caffeine withdrawal headache is worth it, especially with five 12-15 hour work days in a row ahead of me this week.

      “All together there are 6000 calories in that basket which is good for 3.5 days of keeping my body going but when you start breaking down the actual nutrition, it is alot of saturated fat and not alot of anything else.”

      Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer used her $18 per week food allowance to stock up on calories and protein.
      Andrea Reimer

      On her Facebook page, DJ Larkin, a lawyer with the Vancouver-based advocacy group Pivot Legal Society, shared a Raise the Rates B.C. post that calls attention to how the challenge gets more difficult as inflation increases the cost of living while welfare rates remain unchanged.

      “Every year should be the last year of the Welfare Food Challenge - where people choose to live off an average person on welfare's food budget for a week as part of the Raise the Rates BC campaign,” it reads. “But welfare rates haven't been raised since 2007, despite the escalating cost of living. When I did the challenge 3 years ago, the welfare budget for a week of groceries was $26. Now it's $18. People who aren't on welfare take ‘the challenge’ to draw attention to the inhumane rates. Over 175,000 people in BC ‘take the challenge’ every week because they're on welfare. Seriously - we all know that an individual can't survive on $610. It's time to pressure all political parties in the election lead-up to do something about this absurdly injust and inexplicable situation.”

      Melanie Mark is the NDP MP for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant. She shared a series of photographs on Facebook that show exactly what you get for $18 at the supermarket.

      “I haven't eaten all day. I had a free coffee at harbour air,” Mark wrote. “This is what $18 looks like. Breakfast lunch and dinner tonight means one hard boiled egg and peanut butter toast.”

      NDP MP Melanie Mark posted a series of photographs on Facebook that show you don't get much for $18.
      Melanie Mark

      Hospital Employees' Union president Victor Elkins wrote a short post about how such a tight constraint on what you can afford to eat and drink can compound other challenges in one’s life. He was involved in a minor car accident this morning (October 17) and couldn’t buy a cup of coffee to settle his nerves.

      “Day two of my welfare food challenge,” the post begins. “Started off well woke up early, decided to go to work. five minutes into the drive I'm sideswiped black Mustang. I'm fine but my truck looks terrible. Nerve shaken, late for work now what is there to do but grab a cup of Tim Hortons coffee. But then I remembered that the $1.95 takes up a big chunk of my food budget. . I better sip this coffee for the rest of the day. This leaves me with a couple apples and some rice to round up my meal for the entire day.”

      The organization behind the Welfare Food Challenge is Raise the Rates B.C. It calculated the figure of $18 per week for food from the province’s welfare rate of $610 per month for an employable single person.

      From $610, it’s estimated that a “realistic” rent for a single-room occupancy hotel in the Downtown Eastside costs $479. Then they subtracted $20 for a damage deposit, $25 for a cellphone plan, and $10 for hygiene.

      What’s left for food is $76 per month or $18 per week.

      B.C.’s welfare rates have remained frozen since 2007.

      This year, the Welfare Food Challenge is running alongside an online petition at that calls on the provincial government of Cristy Clark to raise social-assistance rates in B.C.