CHANTING, “What do we want? Raise the rates” and “Tax the rich to feed the poor,” over 150 people took their colourful signs and positive energy on a loud march down Hastings Street to the government offices at the foot of Howe Street on Tuesday.
“People are tired of chasing food lines all day,” Bill Beaugarde of the Aboriginal Front Door told the crowd. At $610 a month the welfare rate means that people don’t have enough to both pay rent and eat nutritiously.
“We really need a massive increase,” Harold Lavender said. The disability pension for a single person like Harold is a mere $906 a month.
“It’s good that we’re getting more allies,” said Lavender, noting the wide range of union, student, community and faith groups and people on welfare in the boisterous crowd. “We need to unite and really push this forward.”
“I have a long list of illnesses, including diabetes,” said Tracey Morrison. “The amount of money we get is not enough for a proper diet. I work really hard to survive on welfare. I sit on the phone [with the ministry] for an hour and a half just to talk to someone who makes me feel like dirt.”
Fraser Stuart, called the “passionate cockroach” because he was wearing a cockroach costume, suggested that roaches like low welfare rates because they have lots of crummy housing to roam in. “You can reduce health costs in BC a lot by raising welfare … could save $1 billion a year,” said Stuart.
“We need students, profs, and everyone from all walks of life to tell Christy that we need a raise in welfare,” said Sheila Avissa, a UBC student who joined other students on the march.
“Welfare means being hungry. Welfare means being homeless,” said Trish Garner of the Poverty Reduction Coalition. “We need to start treating people with dignity. We need a net to bounce people back into the full life they deserve.”
Raise the Rates organizer Bill Hopwood said that the government’s announcements earlier this month would impact only a few thousand of the 174,000 people on welfare. “But it shows they are feeling the pressure and that we need to keep it up.” Hopwood added that poverty costs the province about $8 billion a year, while it would only cost $4 billion to end it.
The march was held to mark eight years since the last increase in welfare. No one else in BC has had no increase in income over that long a period. Over the same time the Premier of BC’s pay has gone up 53%.
Hopwood stated that the government has choices, pointing out: “BC is a rich province. The government chose to give no increase to 174,000 people on welfare, a 20-cent increase in the minimum wage and $227 million to the richest people in BC. Government policy seems to be to starve the poor to feed the rich. We need to build the pressure to make them change policy.”