The online independent news website TheTyee.ca recently interviewed BC NDP leader Adrian Dix about some of the issues he might face in next spring’s election.
Of particular interest to me was a question about welfare rates, something I have been trying to get anyone from the NDP to answer for over a year now.
Everyone I talked to refused to answer the question. Rob Fleming, who was my MLA at the time, was the only one who acknowledged me at all, but skirted the issue with a promise to introduce a Poverty Reduction Strategy.
I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on the efficacy of Poverty Reduction Strategies, but that was not the issue here.
The issue is the criminally low welfare rates in this province, which I assert represent a severe violation of human rights.
Here’s what Dix had to say about the issue:
Tyee: Lots of your MLAs will say welfare rates are too low, but they stop short of calling for higher rates.
Dix: “I think what we’re seeing, if you look at the level of inequality in the province, the bottom 20 percent of income earners, in a broad sense in the economy represent 800,000 people out of four million … take home about 4.5 percent of the after tax income, that’s after the tax system has had its impact. That’s a way broader inequality question than the much smaller fraction of that who are on income assistance. When we have such expensive communities to live in, you’ve got to have policies within what you can do in provincial jurisdiction that address that broader question as well.”
The official NDP party line seems to be that a broader approach to poverty is needed. I agree, but I fail to see the conflict here. Raising welfare rates does not contradict plans for long term poverty reduction. In fact, any reasonable long-term plan for poverty reduction should acknowledge the fact that the people in poverty today need relief now.
Dix’s position is insulting to those of us who have suffered under these welfare rates and have devoted our time to raising awareness and demanding change. Apparently, we are just too insignifigant to warrant any real attention.
Earlier this year I contacted Elizabeth May, who was my MP at the time, and she had this to say:
“Both the Green Party of British Columbia and the Green Party of Canada support a Guaranteed Liveable Income to eliminate poverty for good (and for the good.) Raising social assistance rates is a too small step but one we support.”
We’re not trying to argue that raising welfare rates is an alternative to the broader Poverty Reduction Strategy that the NDP have promised, but that is how the BC NDP continues to spin the debate. That also is very insulting.
When NDP MLA Jagrup Brar took the Welfare Challenge last year to live on $610/month, his collegues gave him ‘support’, but the message from Dix was the same it has always been, promising to do everything else about poverty but address this equally as important measure: “We have been clear that it is time to take a hard look at the widening gap between the very wealthy and the rest of British Columbians. Jagrup has raised many of the key issues that go into reducing inequality, like accessible education and training opportunities, health services, affordable housing, public transit, and good jobs,” said Dix.
In June Dix met with some families on assistance who said things to him like: “Stress [from not having enough money to feed her child] makes my disability worse,” said another mother who gets disability assistance. She added, “I am constantly judged and poor-bashed by the Ministry.” To which again Dix responded by singing the praises of his Poverty Reduction Strategy and refused to address the low assistance rates.
Advocates have argued that raising welfare rates just $200/month for single people, $300 a month for couples with-out children and $400 a month for families with children, pointing out that while this is a signifigant amount, it is not impossible to find.
I’m glad that Dix has finally been a bit more clear about his position on this issue, and it doesn’t surprise me. The NDP have never made this issue a top priority and they were the ones who reduced the rates in the first place. It was the Liberals who raised it to where it is now.
I’m highlyt disappointed and insulted by the attitude of the BC NDP, and am lost for ideas at this moment as to how to bring about justice in this situation.