MLA Mable Elmore has been blasted in the media recently for claiming reimbursements for food while she was taking the Welfare Food Challenge in November last year, trying to survive on $19 for the whole week.
A mistake by her and her staff has garnered far more attention than the fact that the Welfare Food Challenge is not able to run this year because the amount left over for food is only $6 per week. Once rent is subtracted from the deeply inadequate rate of $710 per month, only $23 remains to cover all other basic needs. This is using the average rent of $687 for an SRO in the Downtown Eastside.
The B.C. Liberal party released a copy of Elmore’s expense report last week and highlighted expense claims during the week of the challenge of meal per diem payments of $61 a day.
Perhaps the Liberals wanted to highlight the hypocrisy of the situation. The real hypocrisy is that the welfare rates were frozen at $610 per month for 10 years and have only been increased by $100 in the last year. That is less than half of the official Canadian poverty line, a measure that calculates what is actually needed to live.
And the real issue is what this reveals about how we value different people.
For food alone, MLAs are allowed to apply for reimbursement of $1,220 per month, if we consider four full 5-day weeks of work at the Legislature. Their housing allowance on top of that is at a minimum $1,000 per month for a total of $2,220.
So the amount the government provides an MLA for food and housing is over three times the amount the government provides for those in desperate need on welfare. They seem to value themselves far more than they value those on welfare in the deepest poverty.
And, for the most part, we stand by watching while people are devalued and dehumanized through a government system that should be part of a strong social safety net ready to support us when we need it.
Elmore has now promised to pay back the amount she should not have claimed in an attempt to remedy the hypocrisy; and she adds that the Welfare Food Challenge highlights why the province needs a poverty reduction plan. I look forward to seeing the real hypocrisy remedied in the upcoming poverty reduction plan with a significant increase in the welfare rates.
The way to address the real issue is by valuing people in deep poverty and recognizing their humanity.
Government itself has done the math and found that increasing income and disability assistance rates to 75 per cent of the poverty line (using the Market Basket Measure) costs only $372 million. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has gone further and calculated the cost of lifting those folks out of poverty entirely, and found that increasing the rates to 100 per cent of the poverty line costs $1.16 billion.
This sounds like a lot to most of us — an impossible, out of reach amount — but we have to remember that the provincial government has $50 billion of our public money in its budget so this amounts to only two per cent of this. Completely possible and within our reach.
And we have to remember that this is fundamentally about valuing people and their humanity.
Trish Garner is the community organizer of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, a broad-based network of over 400 organizations across B.C. calling for an accountable, bold and comprehensive poverty reduction plan for B.C.
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