FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (February 22, 2017)
BUDGET 2017 ENSURES GROWING POVERTY AND HOMELESSNESS
Victoria - Budget 2017 marks the immoral continuation of a 10 year freeze on the basic income assistance rate of $610 per month for British Columbia’s poorest citizens. This will ensure that poverty and homelessness will continue to grow throughout BC.
The lack of an increase to the base rate ensures that BC will boast amoung the highest child and overall poverty rates in this country. This will also ensure that BC will continue to pay for the significant costs of poverty – heath care and justice system costs in addition to costs associated with lost potential economic activity. The BC-CCPA has estimated the per year cost of doing nothing to address poverty to be between $8.1 and $9.2 billion while the cost of addressing systemic poverty through a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy is estimated to cost $3 to $4 billion per year.
“Desperately low income assistance rates do not provide a ‘hand-up’ and they are not a ‘hand-out’, in reality the result is a ‘hand-down’, crushing people living in poverty and leaving them with virtually no way out”, said Kelly Newhook, Executive Director of TAPS. “It means that instead of looking for work, recipients are forced to spend their days figuring out how they are going to feed themselves and meet their basic needs, surviving without phones, computers, and transportation. For those who are homeless, the rate is just $235/month, leaving many of these British Columbians even more desperate – searching for food in garbage cans and begging for compassion on our streets.”
According to the CMHC Rental Market Report (Fall 2016), the average cost for a single bedroom apartment in Victoria in 2017 is estimated at $912 per month. Since 2007, the maximum allowable provincial income assistance support rate for shelter for an individual remains unchanged at $375 per month. The rate of allowable annual rental increase has gone up 36.3% since the last time income assistance rates were increased a decade ago. The high cost of the rental market coupled with an almost negligible vacancy rate of .5% underlines the conditions that will see acute increases in homelessness in Victoria and across the CRD.
The most recent report from the BC-CCPA ‘Long OverDue – Why BC needs a Poverty-Reduction Plan’, shows that ‘social assistance provides an income not just below the poverty line, but thousands of dollars below it. A single person receiving basic welfare, $610 per month, is at less than 40 per cent of the poverty line.’ BC remains the only jurisdiction in Canada without a poverty reduction plan.
Low income assistance rates have contributed to record increases in food bank usage, the relentless growth of homelessness in every community across BC and an epidemic of people dying as they self-medicate (914 deaths in 2016) many from the traumatic impacts of poverty and an underfunded child welfare system. There is no doubt that poverty has exacerbated this crisis.
The unfortunate reality is that British Columbians will continue to see the impact of these dismal supports in our communities, schools and streets for years to come.