SPARC BC (Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia)

SPARC BC (Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia)

February 20, 2008 09:00 ET

SPARC BC (Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia): New Report Shows BC Welfare Recipients Still Left Behind

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Feb. 20, 2008) - The BC Liberals increases to income assistance in 2007 have had little effect in improving the lives of welfare recipients in British Columbia, who struggle daily to meet basic needs says a report released today by SPARC BC (Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia). With little in the 2008 BC Budget for poverty reduction, BC welfare recipients are still left behind.

The report entitled, Still Left Behind, compares BC Employment and Assistance rates for individuals and families eligible for "temporary assistance" with the minimum monthly cost of the goods and services required for daily living.

Findings of the report show that total incomes for households on income assistance (including the federal benefits for children) only meet 45% of the minimum monthly expenses for a single adult; 72% of the expenses of a single parent with a three-year-old; 46% of a childless couple's expenses; 62% of the expenses of a single parent with a teenager; and 70% of the expenses of a couple with two children under six.

"People on BC income assistance are essentially living in legislated poverty," says Derek Gent, SPARC BC Board of Directors President, "Every year purchasing power is lost because income assistance rates are too low and don't keep up with inflation."

"2007 saw the first increases to income assistance in over a decade, and those increases were so minimal, they virtually had no impact. Due to provincial income assistance policies, people fall far short of being able to cover their basic living costs."

The report found that while families with children saw increases in their ability to cover daily living costs between 2005 and 2007, the increases came mainly from federal child benefits and not due to increases in the BC Employment and Assistance rates.

The report cites that at the same time that welfare caseload reductions have been reduced, poverty rates have increased. In 2005, 20.9% of BC's families with children were living in poverty, despite a strong economy. Nationally, BC has had the highest child poverty rate for the last four years in a row. Canada's national child poverty rate was 16.8% in 2005.

The report also notes that:

- BC is the only province in Canada with no earnings exemptions for non-disabled income assistance claimants - any additional income earned is deducted on a dollar-for-dollar basis from welfare cheques. Parents receiving child support have the entire amount deducted from their welfare cheques;

- Since changes to eligibility requirements came into effect in 2002, the homeless population in Metro Vancouver has increased dramatically. Between 2002 and 2005 (the most recent homeless count for the region) the street homeless population increased by 238% and the sheltered homeless (those staying in shelters and transition houses) increased by 33%;

- It is far from clear if people have replaced welfare incomes with life-sustaining paid employment. The proportion of clients reporting employment income after leaving income assistance since 2002 has decreased slightly from those reporting prior to 2002;

Minister of Employment and Income Assistance, Claude Richmond, often states that jobs are the best way to lift people out of poverty and back on the road to self-sufficiency, but Rebecca Siggner and Jill Atkey, authors of Still Left Behind, comment: "If you're not even meeting half of your living costs, what are you sacrificing to get by? Food? Shelter? How do you perform at a job interview on no sleep and an empty stomach?"

SPARC BC is calling on the provincial government to raise the welfare rates to reflect the actual costs of living and help those in immediate need of assistance. SPARC BC also urges the provincial government to follow the examples of Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec and create a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy. Addressing the inadequacies of income assistance is only one component of poverty reduction. Also critical are adequate wages and supports to help people maintain employment.

Says Gent: "The provincial government can choose to be a leader in poverty reduction with a comprehensive strategy; a good leader makes sure no one gets left behind."

Rebecca Siggner, Jill Atkey, and Derek Gent are available to comment on this report. Please contact Lindsay Hindle at 604.718.7746 for interviews. Download the report at www.sparc.bc.ca.

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