Sometime near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government thought it was a good idea to lend a helping hand to folks living on basic income assistance and disability benefits – many of whom live with a mental illness.
To that end, $300 was added to each monthly assistance cheque – but only for April, May, and June.
This program-within-a-program was a good idea for many reasons, which I will get into shortly.
The first thing we need to discuss, however, is the short duration of the top-up.
My suspicion is that the three-month window was the product of optimism. I can’t recall anyone saying at the time that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to last. We now know better, and it is time to appeal to our provincial government to take this fact into consideration.
For recipients of the meagre social support provided by the B.C. government, that extra $300 was dizzyingly welcome.
For most folks, an extra $75 a week might not mean much, but for someone living on between $700 and $800 a month, it is significant. And for a community member living with a mental illness, this extra degree of comfort can be hugely therapeutic. It means eating a bit better, more freedom, perhaps even a little sweet treat from time to time. Do not underestimate the value of these things.
There are many ways a person with a mental illness experiences exclusion. One important barrier is the day-to-day commerce most of us take for granted. When we need something, we go to a shop and buy it. We may see friends, exchange a little gossip. The “economy” is one of many places that comprise our community.
That marketplace – which is as much social as it is economic – is unavailable to someone with an empty wallet. Doubly so if that someone lives with a mental illness that has caused a tendency to isolate.
I have in past columns stressed the need for us to build a caring and inclusive community. Here on the Sunshine Coast, we have made great strides toward that goal. I can think of few places that have our resources – both institutional and human. Think Arrowhead, or the amazing people at Community Services, at Mental Health and Addictions.
I’m going to stress our obligations once again. But I’m going to put a different point on my argument.
Simply put, we need our government to make the $300 top-up permanent – at least until we’re pretty sure this pandemic is over. But I’d argue that even when our public health crisis has abated, rates for basic income assistance should rise by that same $300 per month.
I’d ask readers to imagine trying to pay rent, eat, buy the minimal necessities, and maybe the odd cup of coffee – on $800 a month. It’s not possible. Something has to give. Most often, it’s at the dinner table. Hunger. Illness. Isolation. It’s a nasty cocktail.
We have an MLA who is no longer in Opposition. He’s in government and, thankfully, is one of the good guys.
It’s time to act. Get hold of him and tell him what you think. If you share my view that increased support for folk living with mental illness is the right thing to do, tell him.