(Vancouver) The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is calling on the provincial government to immediately raise welfare rates, so that people can meet basic needs. Arbitrary cuts since the mid-1990s mean rates are now lower in absolute dollars than they were twelve years ago, and combined with inflation their value has plummeted by about 30%. (Rates for disabled recipients have increased slightly in absolute dollars but after inflation have also decreased.)
“In 2002, the province made a series of arbitrary cuts to welfare benefits as part of its budget reduction plan. The cuts took more than $92 million directly out of the poorest British Columbians’ pockets in the two years after they were made,” says Seth Klein, the CCPA’s BC Director and author of Budget Savings on the Backs of the Poor: Who Paid the Price for Welfare Benefit Cuts in BC, released today. The $92 million savings to government was calculated using figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
“These cuts reduced what were already grossly inadequate benefits,” says Klein. “The money came mainly from single parents and their children, and older British Columbians nearing retirement age. Some single parent families on welfare saw their already meagre incomes fall by $395 per month or more.”
“There is currently no rhyme or reason to how welfare rates are set,” says Steve Kerstetter, author of A Better Way to Set Welfare Rates, also released today by the CCPA, “In theory, welfare incomes are supposed to cover the basic necessities of life. In practice, they are set arbitrarily by the provincial cabinet with no regard for the actual cost of living.”
Kerstetter recommends using a “basket of goods” approach that measures how much income is needed to provide for food, shelter, transit and other necessities. “At $510 per month for a single individual, welfare benefits are appallingly low. That’s less than half of what’s required to meet basic needs.”
Klein points out that the Province of Newfoundland recently announced it would index welfare rates to inflation, to prevent people from becoming worse off over time.
An Ipsos-Reid poll commissioned by the CCPA last month shows that 74% of British Columbians would support an increase in welfare rates.
To arrange an interview, call Avi Goldberg at 604-801-5121 x229.
The poll is based on a randomly selected sample of 803 adult British Columbians. Results are considered accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The reports are part of the Economic Security Project, a joint research initiative of the CCPA and Simon Fraser University, funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).