Impacts of food poverty highlighted by B.C. welfare challenge participants

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      Ted Bruce was a few days into a one-week challenge to live on a food budget similar to someone on welfare when a sense of stress began to set in.

      “About three or four days in, I went oh boy, I might be out of food by day six or seven here,” Bruce recounted in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight. “That’s I think kind of the real, gut-wrenching sense that you have is that I may run out of food.”

      For Bruce and other participants in the Welfare Food Challenge, which was organized by the anti-poverty group Raise the Rates, that glimpse of stress only lasted for a few more days. But the kind of chronic stress that low-income people can experience in the face of stretched food budgets and poor nutrition, and the physiological impacts this can have on the body, have the public-health professional concerned.

      As the executive director of population health for Vancouver Coastal Health, Bruce said his goal in taking part in the challenge, which wrapped up Tuesday (October 23), was to raise awareness of the degree that poverty contributes to making populations sick.

      “We’ve seen lots of studies that show that people in low-income situations, people who live in deprived neighbourhoods, have higher rates of chronic disease, and higher rates of hospitalization,” he explained.

      “People in low-income areas, the rate of hospitalization for diabetes is 2.4 times that of people in the higher economic areas. So that’s a startling use of hospital care related to low income.”

      For challenge-taker Brent Mansfield, eating a diet based largely on white rice and oatmeal for a week had the greatest impact on his energy levels, leaving him lethargic and with “a foggy head”.

      As the co-chair of the citizen’s advisory committee the Vancouver Food Policy Council, Mansfield said the council now hopes to establish a working group to look at issues related to food equity.

      The advisory committee has been working with the city on its municipal food strategy, which Mansfield said will look at efforts such as establishing more community gardens, and expanding opportunities for urban agriculture. Mansfield noted that while he wants to see local efforts like city farms expanded, he also believes broader policy changes are needed to address systemic issues that contribute to food poverty.

      “Right now, with the social assistance rates and what they’re at, people can’t make good choices, even if they wanted to—and they may not have time or energy to be able to participate in broader things that would develop their own capacity to grow and cook healthy food,” he said in a phone interview. “So we need to be looking at all points of the spectrum.”

      Paul Taylor, the executive director of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, said that much of the food that’s available on a charitable basis in the area isn’t suited to a range of health needs.

      “I work in a community where people are disproportionately affected with a variety of things that compromise their health,” he told the Straight following a news conference at the neighbourhood house on East Hastings Street Tuesday. “The food that’s typically available through a charity model is food that’s high in starch, high in sugar, high in preservatives, overly-packaged, overly-processed.”

      “For me the biggest part is that people have money in their wallet, so that they can go out and purchase the food and things that they need to keep them alive,” he added.

      Organizers with Raise the Rates renewed their call Tuesday for increases to welfare rates, and for a provincial poverty-reduction strategy.

      “Poverty costs money,” Bill Hopwood told reporters. “It costs the health service…it costs education, it costs children who didn’t get enough iron. It affects their whole life.”

      The current income assistance rate for a single person expected to work in B.C. is $610 a month. According to the calculation of Raise the Rates, that leaves just over $100 a month for food, after housing, bus tickets and other basic expenses are covered.

      The last increase to B.C. income assistance rates was in 2007. In June, the B.C. government announced changes to income and disability assistance, including allowing all expected-to-work welfare clients a $200 monthly earnings exemption, and an $800 monthly earnings exemption for individuals receiving disability assistance.




      Oct 24, 2012 at 10:03am

      to be honest, I wonder how much welfare money goes to tobacco, alcohol, taxis and junk food?

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      R U Kiddingme

      Oct 24, 2012 at 11:14am

      I 'm sure I could live on that at least for a few months...but then, I have all kinds of cooking gear, pantry room, spices and oils, and I have the inclination and ability to make meals. If you didn't have the space and the stuff, it would be really hard and maybe not possible.

      @branvan - a shitton, obviously, or why else would there be extra staff at the LDB on cheque issue days. That doesn't make them bad though...just people who need a little bit of relief from the drudge.

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      Lorraine Dick

      Oct 24, 2012 at 11:24am

      Never mind how much welfare money goes to tobacco, alcohol, taxis, and junk food! Do you think just because you are on welfare you should be deprived of the addictions of the rest of the population? They still don't get enough to eat healthy foods and use public transportation (if available)!

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      Oct 24, 2012 at 11:34am

      Where there's a will there's a political way. It's proven on a daily basis when our governments make spending decisions.

      Welfare rates don't allow anyone to eat healthy food and stay well. This challenged proved it AGAIN.

      Such poverty is our shame and we all pay for it dearly - I will vote for the party that WILL increase welfare rates AND set up a poverty reduction plan with guts. And if it means we need more ways to get more $$$ into the provincial coffers, so be it.

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      cranky mom

      Oct 24, 2012 at 11:38am

      branvan3000 - to answer your question, not much is left after paying for housing you judgmental, entitled, narrow minded _ _ _ _. Go back home and have dinner with your momma.

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      Oct 24, 2012 at 11:39am

      Great. A welfare program motivating people to get off it. As one of the funders of this program i completely approve. Would have drove me crazy to read an article which concluded someone could live ok off welfare.

      Funny how 7 people dissagree with branvan3000s comment. Its a legitimate question/concern. I have lived in gastown for 10 years and I can assure you I have seen my fare share of people on welfare. Guess what? MANY smoke, drink and do drunks. Certainly not all, but most.

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      Dave w

      Oct 24, 2012 at 11:55am

      I have been on PWD for one year and yes there are many times I have
      gone without food.I would love to find a part time job but there is no work
      for people without medical problems let alone with.No company will hire someone if they can't guarantee that they will be okay to make it to work.
      I used to make $40 to 50k but not now,I am thankful for 906$ per month
      but after high housing costs there is nothing left for food-or anything.I think the truth is being "tucked under the carpet"

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      Lee L.

      Oct 24, 2012 at 12:05pm

      There are many situations wherein people find themselves on welfare.
      Some of those people will be unable to live without government support despite their own efforts. These people ought to be identified and supported at a level that is more reasonable, but maybe not in the exact location they would choose. I don't, for example, think it is a wise use of funds to create social / subsidized housing for those that cannot work in the middle of Kitsilano or Point Grey where property is very expensive.

      On the other hand, these people and those with mental and physical disabilities aside, welfare is not intended as a way of life, but a way to help you through until you can get going supporting yourself. Booze, other drugs and cigarettes are pleasantries that aren't advancing a recipient's progress toward self sufficiency and are not a decent argument for increasing rates. Diabetics will have trouble enduring a high carb diet for six months, others can adapt.

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      just me and my cane

      Oct 24, 2012 at 1:55pm

      What about people on "permanent disability"? They get $906.00 per month. There are not enough low cost rentals (325.00 per mo.) to go around, try paying today's rents and still get to eat?
      Sometimes working and pulling your own weight and not smoking nor drinking then life just happens, you become disabled and unable to work.

      R U Kiddingme

      Oct 24, 2012 at 6:04pm

      @Lee L

      You are right that welfare was not meant to be a lifestyle but a temporary cash injection for someone who is about to bounce back to work.

      Is that the reality though? I mean, is there enough unskilled labour work around to pay the bills really?

      I am coming to the idea that there should be a basic income right even if the person is the proverbial lazy welfare slob. I would much rather said slobs have (barely) enough cash to have a clean flop with food and cigarettes, wasting their lives away but doing no harm to others, than the current set up which is an invitation to fraud, crime, and abuse, for example, having babies in order to up the monthly payout. IMO that is a real scenario that creates a more or less permanent underclass with all the negatives that go with it.

      I honestly think that it would be more humane and fiscally cheaper to institute some sort of basic income guarantee so that you can work or not work and still have a place to live and food to eat.

      Sure that idea will gall and irritate those who think dem bums should be liftin' a shovel. But I truly believe that humans generally speaking would prefer to be useful than useless and that relatively few people would willingly do nothing if there was something better to do.

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