Who can live and eat healthily on $610 a month?
That’s the question behind the Second Annual Welfare Food Challenge: Hungry for a Welfare Raise Week that wrapped up Oct. 23.
However, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett notes that while she would “love to see the welfare rates raised,” the limited provincial budget dollars are better spent on job creation.
“I don’t think it is enough, but you know what? There is no more money in the bank. Social assistance was always put there as a stop-gap until you got a job.
“The most important thing to me is getting people trained, retrained, or helping them find a job.”
Organized by Raise the Rates (RTR), people from around the province were challenged to live for a week on only the food they could purchase with $26 – the money an average single person on welfare has for seven days worth of food.
People participated from Prince George, the Kootenays, Vancouver Island and Greater Vancouver, with post-challenge comments across the board citing a lack of healthy food and constant hunger.
RTR says poverty can increase social isolation, as welfare recipients don’t meet people at restaurants or local events, which is detrimental to mental health and finding a job.
Meanwhile, Barnett says obtaining employment sometimes means travelling to where the work is, whether this is commuting for jobs away from home, or moving with a family.
Living on $610 “would be tough” for a single person, she adds, but her constituents on welfare have “good food banks” to help them out, as well as community gardens, government-funded nutritionists and other initiatives.
Although they wouldn’t qualify for food banks over a single week, RTR points out a group of dietitians and nutritionists took the challenge, and in spite of all their training and skills, none of them managed to work out a healthy and filling diet.
Barnett explains the province’s debt must be curbed, just as a family watches its credit card bill.
“I think it’s sad that people are on social assistance. But, we have to keeping trying to get them back into the workforce.”