A Coquitlam councillor may be a little tired when he goes on his round of civic duties this week.
That's because Chris Wilson is living on limited rations thanks to his participation in the 2016 Welfare Food Challenge to raise awareness about B.C.'s low welfare rates. For a week, Wilson has to live on $18 worth of groceries — the amount left from an employment assistance cheque of $610 for a single person after paying for transportation, housing, a phone for job search and personal hygiene items.
The challenge, organized by the group Raise the Rates, aims to make poverty an issue in the lead-up to next May's provincial election.
Wilson is a municipal politician but he says the provincial issue is important locally because of the many people, including adults on disability suffering from mental health concerns, who have to some how make do on these low rates. His concerns are echoed by many poverty advocates and dieticians, who say the rates are too low to adequately feed, clothe and house individuals and families.
To make the point that rates unchanged since 2007 need to rise, Wilson will be living on meagre rations and trying to do his job.That is something the B.C. government expects because nearly 40% of people on welfare are considered "capable of financial independence through employment," even though many of them have a medical condition or multiple barriers to employment.
By far the greatest number of people on B.C. employment and assistance are people with disabilities. According to government statistics, there were 185,806 people in B.C. on income assistance in August, 69,720 of them expected to work and 116,086 of whom were on disability. These are people for the most part who struggle daily and for whom whom low welfare rates only add to their challenges.
Will the food challenge make people care about this issue? It's hard to say as this is the fifth year of the welfare challenge and the province has yet to budge on rates despite astronomical housing costs and a budget surplus.
Still, there's always hope that making an issue personal like this will make a difference.