(Vancouver) BC's provincial government received a warning today from researchers who say its package of new welfare rules is radical and unprecedented, and will cause unacceptable hardship and upheaval in communities across BC.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC) joined with anti-poverty advocates at a news conference this morning to release A Bad Time to be Poor: An analysis of British Columbia's new welfare policies. It is the first comprehensive review of the full package of policy changes.
"This study sounds the alarm about the government's changes to social assistance in BC," says Seth Klein, Director of the CCPA's BC Office and co-author of the study. "We are deeply concerned that the cuts to welfare rates and eligibility, combined with cuts to employment supports and an economic slowdown, could be a social catastrophe in the making. We are particularly concerned about the toxic mix of time limits, the two-year independence test, and the three-week wait."
"The government has imported many policies from the US welfare restructuring of the 1990s," says Andrea Long, a researcher with SPARC BC and co-author of the study. "However, it has selectively imported the punitive policies that push and keep people of welfare--such as time limits--but not the supports that help people make the transition to paid employment."
"This is clearly an exercise in budget-cutting, not good social policy. When the US implemented tough welfare rules in the 1990s, there was also an increase in spending on programs for low-income people," says Long. "In BC, many new policies actually discourage work re-entry. The government has cut child care, eliminated earnings exemptions, introduced a $6/hour 'training' wage, reduced training and educational opportunities, and cut transition-to-work assistance."
"The Ministry of Human Resources has taken the biggest budget hit of any ministry," says Seth Klein. "In a very concrete way, we are seeing a transfer of income from the poorest among us--who need social assistance--to the wealthiest among us--who received the lion's share of BC's recent tax cuts."
"The cuts are forcing people off welfare despite the fact that the provincial government is not anticipating a drop in the unemployment rate," says Klein. "It is normal for welfare rolls to decline during economic good times--that happened in Canada and the US during the 1990s. But it is quite another thing to plan for a reduction in welfare rolls when unemployment is stagnant."
"Already, the new rules are causing increased despair and hardship for many," says Klein. "There are early reports of an increase in homelessness in Vancouver, and the cuts are hitting at a time when workers in resource-dependent communities are struggling with the impacts of the softwood lumber dispute and exhausting their EI coverage."
"The government should compassionately rethink its welfare policies," says Klein. "BC should not abandon welfare when in need as a basic human right."