I commend Surrey MLA Jagrup Brar for his efforts to draw attention to the thousands of British Columbians living in impoverished conditions on welfare in this province.
I feel $610 per month is legislated poverty and oppressive, and the welfare rates should be raised sooner rather than later. Why?
Raising welfare rates is an efficient way to stimulate the economy. Most of the money distributed to the poor will be spent in the local economy and stimulate demand. This will increase the need for more goods and services and workers, and unemployment may start to fall gradually.
Helping the poor pays huge dividends in every sector of government expenditure, especially big budget items such as health and education. Lifting children and families out of poverty increases positive outcomes for the most marginalized among us, whether it’s increasing literacy, reducing malnourishment, or increasing graduation rates. With a focus on a healthy and educated society, less youth will go into crime or gangs, thereby saving the government millions in police, court, and prison-related costs.
It is morally and ethically the right thing to do to help the less fortunate get ahead and reach their potential. That is good social policy. Every politician and government should strive to help their citizens make the most of their potential and contribute to society. The extremes between the rich and poor is already causing Occupy riots all over the world. It is in everyone’s best interests to moderate these extremes for the peace and good order of society. I believe in peaceful protests but not riots and permanent camps. The solution is finding support for the mentally ill, detox for persons addicted to drugs, and homes for the homeless.
Brar should also be arguing for streamlining the administration of the welfare system. I don’t see why the federal government cannot issue income-assistance cheques through the use of technology and centralization. This removes the stigma of welfare and huge savings can be made in overall administration. There is no stigma in receiving an HST cheque. The HST is relatively efficiently administered compared to setting up welfare offices in every town in the province and throughout the country. Most importantly, the administrative savings of switching to a federal centralized system can be passed on to those in need as an increase in the welfare rate. In this way, the government would not be spending a cent more by increasing welfare rates but would be simply passing on savings through greater efficiencies and economies of scale.
And yes the waiting period should be abolished! There is no direct relationship between a waiting period and a job search. The two are two separate things. The government should pay people their benefits while they’re doing the job search so they can survive and pay their food and shelter expenses. It also costs money to find a job. You need nice clothes, transportation money, telephone, access to Internet to check and send emails, and maybe even a fax machine.
Last, you must understand the history of the development of the welfare office to comprehend why it is unfair and unjust. The welfare office is a product of the old English Poor Laws and the concept of “less eligibility”. Less eligibility means a welfare recipient cannot receive more money than the least paid worker. This is why welfare rates are so low even for people with disabilities, who are among the most chronically unemployed, and why there is a focus on finding work. This concept of less eligibility basically drives down wages and benefits for all workers and is not a good thing for society. Welfare rates have not met market needs and requirements for decades. I think a welfare recipient receives $375 for rent per month. Where can you find a place for that amount in Vancouver unless you relocate to the marginalized and often dangerous parts of town?
Alex Sangha is a registered social worker and the author of The Modern Thinker.