Higher rates a welfare trap

Brent StaffordtheQ Leave a Comment

theQuestion: Should the B.C. government raise welfare rates?*

Living on $610 a month must be nearly impossible, certainly if you make the choice to live in the Lower Mainland. Choice? Yes, choice. My Duel colleague argues this week that for those British Columbians receiving welfare, choice isn’t an option. I disagree.

With the exception of the small percentage of people with severe mental illness and physical disability, many on welfare are there, in part, as a result of the choices they have made.

The decision to drop out of high school, to not seek skills training, to not look for work, to commit a criminal act, to inject illegal drugs are all examples of choices which could lead to difficulty in procuring the necessities of life.

The government is there to help. Income assistance payments delivered through the B.C. Employment and Assistance program will reach nearly $1.7 billion this fiscal year — a significant contribution by B.C. taxpayers in the effort to help give those in B.C. a lift, not a crutch.

People in the program are expected to contribute to their own self-sufficiency and avail themselves of government programs to improve their labour skills. Is this happening? It’s hard to say. What is clear is the combination of a welfare rate freeze and focus on skills training have led to a dramatic reduction in those on income assistance.

Excluding those with disabilities, since the BC Liberals took power in 2001, the number of people in the province on income assistance has dropped by 61% — from 191,938 to 74,562 in 2013. Is tough love making a difference? Apparently so, you can’t argue with the results.

I agree it’s hard for people caught in the poverty cycle to break free. But throwing more money at it will not make a difference. Take the Downtown Eastside — hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year and the problem keeps getting worse. Not surprisingly, drugs play a big role. According to a study in the International Journal of Drug Policy, the daily number of injections at Insite, the supervised injection facility in the DTES, is significantly higher on the three days beginning with welfare cheque day than on other days.

Until we hear welfare advocates call for more personal responsibility and we see more positive action by those receiving benefits, welfare rates should stay exactly where they are.

*First published in 24hrs Vancouver ‘theDuel’

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