Do you think you could live on $26 for food in a week?
I know I couldnít. In fact the day that Iím penning this column, I have already spent $8 on breakfast (a breakfast sandwich and coffee from Starbucks), brought a bag lunch from home, which consisted of a ready-made soup cup, apple, some carrot slices and a yogurt cup and I have chicken breast, veggies and rice planned for dinner. Total cost is well over $20 ó and that is just one day.
So imagine what my food consumption would have been today had I been stretching my dollars for a whole week? You can be sure the breakfast would be gone, veggies and fruit would be out and the pre-made soup and yogurt, not a chance. My diet would be pretty sparse, which means the chances of eating a healthy and proper diet would be darn near impossible.
Iím fortunate to have a good-paying job where Iím able to afford a modest basement suite which I rent, have nice clothes, pay for hydro, Internet and cable, pay for my car, have the ability to shop for groceries and pretty much get what I want when I want it and am able to enjoy the freedom to travel, attend sporting events, meet friends at my favourite pub and socialize freely. And if Iím in a bind from time to time, I have a loving support system in place through family and friends.
But for many others who are on welfare and struggling to make ends meet, they are not so fortunate.
According to the anti-poverty group Raise the Rates, on average $26 is all a single welfare recipient has in this province to buy food for a week. This is after any rent or travel costs (likely transit) because owning their own vehicle is out of the question, a phone and other expenses are taken out of their meager $610 social assistance cheque.
If you are not familiar with Raise the Rates, the group is a coalition of community groups and organizations that was struck out of a concern with the level of poverty and homelessness in this province. Their primary focus is people in the worst poverty situation ó those people living on welfare.
At the start of last year, Raise the Rates organized the MLA welfare challenge, a challenge to all provincial MLAs to live on the welfare rate of $610. Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar took up the challenge and soon found out how dire it was to survive on that amount of money. At the end of the challenge, he had lost 26 pounds in a month, his energy levels were low and generally he was in poor health. Now take into account that he considered himself a healthy and fit person going into the challenge, and picture what welfare can do to people over a longer period of time. Itís not a pretty picture.
In the past week, (Oct. 16 to 23), Raise the Rates issued the same welfare food challenge again. The Dietitians of Canada in their report the Cost of Eating in B.C. pointed out that the cost of basic healthy food is way more than what welfare provides.
B.C. has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada and that is simply unacceptable. We live in an amazing and beautiful province that is full of opportunity. Why are we not taking better care of those who are vulnerable? Welfare rates have not risen in this province since 2007. Itís time to change that.