Oct 20, 2013

My welfare challenge: Days 4 and 5


Fascinating to see all the comments on these blog posts.

I want to highlight Dale’s comments in response to my Day 3 post in particular.

Some may read these posts and point out that people with a recognized disability (those with PWD status in our welfare system) receive marginally more on welfare (a single person in the “Expected to Work” category receives $610 a month, while someone on PWD receives $906 a month), and that a majority of welfare recipients have PWD status (in 2012, just under 4% of British Columbians were on social assistance, of which about 56% were in the PWD category).

However, as Dale notes, people are often made to wait years before finally being granted PWD status. This is a major problem we found in our Living on Welfare report in 2008. And during that time, a disability or illness that should be obvious is actually worsened while people are forced to live on the basic allowance.

Moreover, even once PWD status is gained, life is no picnic. The extra dollars are often needed to cover extra costs associated with the disability, leaving not much more for food. Indeed, this too was a finding in our 2008 report; while many people we followed over two years did finally have their disability recognized and PWD status granted, they still reported a heavy reliance on food banks and other charities in order to meet basic food needs.

Is this really want we want – a welfare system, including for those with disabilities who live on welfare for many years, that is structurally dependent on charities for people to meet their basic food needs?

It’s the little things that drive home how hard this budget must be in real life, and which have made me very conscious of the cost of things this week:

  • Not being able to duck into a café for a coffee or treat.
  • Money for a parking meter.
  • The trip to the pumpkin patch (simply not on if I were really on welfare).
  • At my daughter’s soccer game on Saturday, I was glad it wasn’t my week to bring snacks for the team, as this budget certainly wouldn’t allow for that.

I note all the continuing comments on these posts with shopping advice, or ideas for creatively meeting one’s food needs in various ways. But I think some of these comments miss the point; of course people on welfare manage to survive in all kinds of creative (and often desperate and harmful) ways. Many have done so for years. But doing so takes up a huge amount of time (time the government says they are supposed to be spending looking for work). And we know living this way is not good for people’s health.

People make ends meet by turning to charity, or friends, or picking food. But the government claims a welfare cheque is supposed to be sufficient to meet your food needs. The object of the exercise in the Welfare Food Challenge is to show that this is not so – people only make ends meet by creatively and time-consumingly pursuing other options (often at great cost to their dignity).

As I approach the final two days of this challenge, I suspect I can make it to the end (although I continue to bend the rules treating my cold). But it sure is miserable, eating the same things day in and day out.

BTW, I encourage people to read the blog diaries of others who are taking the challenge this week. They can be found here.