Welfare food challenge will see Vancouver participants live on $26 for a week

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Vancouver park board commissioner Constance Barnes is among the participants in a challenge next month to eat on welfare rates for a week.

      Anti-poverty group Raise the Rates announced the details of its “welfare food challenge” today (September 25), which will see participants spend just $26 for a week’s supply of food.

      The challenge will take place from October 16 to 23. Aside from Barnes, the other candidates that have confirmed their participation in the challenge are Paul Taylor, the executive director of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, registered dietician Colleen McGuire, Brent Mansfield, the co-chair of the Vancouver Food Policy Council, parent and community organizer Trish Garner, and Ted Bruce, the executive director of population health with Vancouver Coastal Health.

      Barnes said she experienced a similar challenge first-hand about 20 years ago, when she and her children were on welfare for a couple of years.

      “I was on social assistance when they were young, and it was really hard to feed them,” she told the Straight by phone.

      Barnes’ father Emery also accepted a challenge to live on welfare rates for a month in 1986 when he was an MLA.

      “It’s 26 years ago and we’re still working on this—we still need to address it,” she said.

      “It’s not just people in the Downtown Eastside,” she added. “These are people that are all walks of life that have just really fallen on tough times, places are closing down, all of a sudden you’re in a situation that you’re having to reach out for help.”

      Barnes recalls her father losing 30 pounds and looking “gaunt” toward the end of his challenge.

      “I remember him being really hungry, I remember going to see him when he had a one-room over Heatley, and I remember bringing him food…and he would not accept it,” recalled Barnes.

      As part of the challenge next month, organizers are requiring participants to subsist only on the $26 a week, and not to accept any additional meals from friends or from food banks. The amount was calculated based on what welfare participants have left after paying for accommodation, bus tickets, and other basic expenses. The monthly social assistance rate for a single employable person in B.C. is $610.

      Bill Hopwood, an organizer with Raise the Rates, acknowledged that while the welfare food challenge won’t affect participants in the same way as those living on social assistance rates over a long period, he expects them to notice impacts on their attitude and morale.

      “People, because they’re hungry, they then don’t function so well, then they make bad decisions, or they go for the job interview and they’re not really there,” he said.

      Organizers are challenging other B.C. residents to take part in the experience next month. They plan to announce more participants in the coming weeks.

      The food challenge follows NDP MLA Jagrup Brar’s experience of living on the welfare rate for a month in January. Brar accepted an earlier challenge by Raise the Rates to all B.C. MLAs.



      2nd Nation

      Sep 25, 2012 at 7:11pm

      yes, welfare rates are low. Work pays more.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Stephanie Williams

      Sep 25, 2012 at 7:49pm

      It's actually quite easy to eat healthy on the welfare rate - my boyfriend and I eat extremely comfortably on $230/month, and that includes toilet paper, shampoo, etc. We eat very very well - no processed foods or modern junk, just wholesome foods like stews, curries, casseroles, homemade breads and baked goods. For any sensible person, this is not much of a challenge.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Mouse Chaser

      Sep 25, 2012 at 8:39pm

      Good Luck With This One As We All Know That In This Day And Age And With The Cost Of Food Rising Everyday This Ain't Gonna Happen - LOL, Guess She Will Be Able To Buy A Loaf Of Bread, A Package Of Cheese Slices, Maybe A Pound Of Margarine, And Now She Is All Set For Food For A Week, She Just Might Have A $1.00 Leftover. Yummy.

      0 0Rating: 0


      Sep 25, 2012 at 8:45pm

      90% of people are on disability which is $980/month

      0 0Rating: 0


      Sep 25, 2012 at 8:48pm

      Not much of a challenge when you know you can can eat when ever you want to and then when the 'challenge' is over you can just go shopping again. More like a publicity stunt. Nothing more.

      0 0Rating: 0


      Sep 25, 2012 at 9:11pm

      Compliments to all of you willing to take this challenge.

      And now to the politicians - get on with urgently needed changes. It is impossible to stay healthy on such a meager amount!

      How many more times does it need to be proven by those on welfare/disability and by advocates willing to take a challenge to prove the point again and again and again.

      0 0Rating: 0


      Sep 25, 2012 at 9:16pm

      I live on 26 dollars a week, a single male, with lots of pasta, and tomato paste. Rice the next week. Oatmeal the next. A whole family cant though.


      Sep 26, 2012 at 4:12am

      I'm a single male, comfortably living on $200 food budget per month regardless of how many weeks there are and have been doing so for several years. I shop mostly in bulk, package my self and freeze. This includes meats & veggies. Knowing where and when to shop is the trick, keep an eye out for sales, when there is a two for one deal, go for it.


      Sep 26, 2012 at 6:52am

      I have no problem with the living on $26/week. I have a problem with landlords charging more than 30% of incomes for a space so small and infested that a third world country would reject. Get rents adjusted correctly and there would be enought money for the necessity of food.

      0 0Rating: 0


      Sep 26, 2012 at 7:30am

      the comments that $26 a week is acceptable, are you frigging kidding me??
      pasta, rice, stews, homemade bread...all that sounds just lovely until you consider that there is no FRUIT in that diet, not enough vegetables and decent protein and portioning must be kept up like a Nazi or you will run out. How about getting the lowlife middlers, b&e'ers and employable young men and women off welfare and do a financial overhaul on this messed up system? How about reducing the pay of all city of Van workers? I work for the parks board, I make $20 an hour at a job that should pay $12. Poverty in this city just makes me want to cry.

      0 0Rating: 0