For me this is a challenge, for thousands of others it’s a reality

November 10, 2015

Deciding to take the Welfare Food Challenge for a week, I committed to eating only the food I could buy for just $21. It's an annual event organized by Raise the Rates, a community advocacy group supported by the BCGEU. $21 a week - that’s just $3 a day! Less than the cost of the latte most of us have each morning. I prepared for the challenge by dutifully shopping at Dollarama and Buy-Low, taking home a modest bag of groceries. I have to admit to being a bit proud that I had stretched my budget and planned well. But I soon realized, however, that fresh vegetables and fruits would be a luxury.

I had joined newly elected MP Jenny Kwan, HEU President Victor Elkins, musician Bif Naked and many others in this year's challenge hoping to raise awareness of the shockingly low social assistance rates in BC. This is a fact witnessed daily by many BCGEU members who work in the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation and in community based health and social services. But it is experienced by thousands of people across the province. And I was about to get a bit of insight into this reality.

On my first day, I attended a meeting where lunch was catered. While colleagues ate a delicious hot meal I dug into my tuna sandwich and half a banana. It made me wonder what it was like to be surrounded by abundance but limited to scarcity. I couldn't help but think what it must be like to feel hungry while walking past restaurants full of diners and food trucks serving up gourmet hot dogs. I've never been a foodie and don't give much thought to eating when it's all around me but knowing how I was limited this week made me think all the time about my next meal.

By Friday, just halfway through the challenge, my brain wasn't working as quickly as I am used to. I was foggy and had a terrible headache. Another major aha moment was when a very dear, newly pregnant friend said she thought she should have done the challenge and I realized how unhealthy trying to eat on $3 a day would be for anyone growing and supporting a new life! As an ECE and knowing what I know about early brain development and prenatal health- it's actually quite terrifying! According to Health Canada's 2011-2012 Canadian Community Health Survey, 8.3 per cent of the population of B.C. is moderately or severely food insecure. Higher rates of food insecurity are found in lower income households and among: families headed by single females, Aboriginal Peoples, marginally housed and homeless people, and new immigrants.

Over 175,000 people in BC - 30,000 of them children - rely on welfare and face bare cupboards and fridges. It's impossible to get your proper nutritional needs met and function properly on these meagre social assistance rates. The rates have not changed in over 8 years and yet the cost of living, especially rent and food, rise each year. Unfortunately, myths about welfare and the people who need it persist. Myths like keeping the rates low encourages people to look for work, that people choose to be on welfare and that we can't afford to raise the rates. And yet, the BC government has prioritized tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, it costs society more to permit people to live in poverty than it would to lift them out of it. We need a welfare system that supports people, not punishes them. It's time for the BC government to raise the rates!

Please sign the petition to raise the rates here.

Visit Welfare Food Challenge to learn more.

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I believe that we must support a raise to the welfare rates. People cannot live healthy lives on the amount welfare provides them. There are so many hidden costs the could be eliminated with a more livable support payment from medical costs to judicial costs just looking at the tip of the iceburg.

Good for you Stephanie!
The only way to know how it feels is to walk in someone eles' shoes.

I was on social assistance for 18 months when my daughter was born 21 years ago. Rate at that time for one adult one child was $980.00 a month $600 of which went to rent. It was a challenge to survive. I don't think it is much better now.

Hi. I understand that welfare rates are low and haven't been raised in a long time but something has to also be done about time lines. When Gordon Campbell came into power my son was 5, and I was informed that my time was already used up according to welfare. I couldn't find any work even though I just finished a rca diploma program through a student loan I ended up paying off over 10 years later... nevertheless I couldn't find work so I applied for welfare once again because I had absolutely no income other then my child tax credit a month ($200.00) I went into the welfare office in Burnaby and the intake worker after waiting 3 months mandatory at that time asked me what my disability was. I said what? She said it wasn't her problem I couldn't find work, and if I didn't have a disability she couldn't help me. I was on welfare a total of 3 months that year and at the end of the year my grand total income that year was 5000.00 including child tax credit. My son and I starved every day and night. I had no money for a bus to go to a food bank and I had to lie to my landlord and say I was still in collage. I was in low-income housing and it cost more if I was unemployed then in collage for rent. I've had a hard go at life and other people shouldn't go through what we did. No one should live like my government did to my son and I. We had no $3.00 a day, if we were hungry we ate bread from the church down the street. Someone has to change the system. It's just too bad that the people in power will never have my perspective on the matter....