NDP MLAs mingle with protesters at rally against changes to disability assistance payments at the B.C. legislature March 2.

BC VIEWS: Why so cheap with the poor?

Despite their frequent demands for more, no one should understand them better than the B.C. NDP

We hear a lot here at the B.C. legislature about hard-hearted government treatment of the poor.

It’s a serious problem, and one often obscured by the partisan Punch-and-Judy show that passes for political debate in this province.

As things stand, Premier Christy Clark’s government is heading into an election year with a basic income assistance rate for single employable adults at $610 a month, unchanged since the last miserly increase in 2007. Couples on assistance get up to $877.22, or up to $1,101.06 if they have two children.

If those children are aged three or more, parents are required to look for work and file monthly reports that show they still need income assistance.

The B.C. Liberals’ February budget left the basic rates and rules the same, with new applicants required to look for work for five weeks before getting a first cheque. There are sound reasons for this hard line, and despite their frequent demands for more, no one should understand them better than the B.C. NDP.

Mike Harcourt’s NDP government raised rates in 1991, and also eased eligibility rules to let people stay on assistance longer. Within two years, B.C.’s welfare rolls were nearly 10 per cent of the working-age population and climbing.

Harcourt famously denounced the “cheats, deadbeats and varmints” gaming the system, rolled the single employable rate back to $500 a month and imposed some of the harsh eligibility and job search rules that remain today. The caseload of single employable recipients declined by a third.

The current B.C. Liberal government did approve a $77 increase to the $906 disability income assistance rate, to take effect this September. Mostly what they got was protests about implementing a $52 monthly charge for transit passes.

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell rejected opposition claims that transit passes are being cancelled. There are 45,000 disability clients who don’t have access to transit, and they receive nothing for their transportation costs. If those who can use them want to continue, the cost comes out of their rate increase.

A protest was organized for the legislature lawn March 2, featuring disability activists and NDP politicians. As I arrived, Hospital Employees’ Union members were posing for pictures with New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy, a former HEU business manager. Others in HEU T-shirts were leading developmentally disabled people up to the small crowd.

All typical B.C. political theatre, with the union’s role omitted from news reports as usual. But I had to wonder about the NDP demand for taxpayers to top up the $170 million disability assistance budget increase with another $35 million a year, to provide bus passes to those lucky enough to be able to use them.

Most people on disability assistance aren’t commuting to work daily. If they were, they would likely no longer be eligible. If they are able to use transit, it’s mainly for shopping, medical appointments and social activities.

When the change takes effect this fall, I intend to find out how many people decide to take the $77 increase and pay for transit only when they need it. I suspect there will be many.

Faith Bodnar of the activist group Inclusion BC summed it up well when she spoke to the rally.

“Government, all you did was equalize poverty for people with disabilities in B.C.,” she said.

Note that Bodnar wasn’t calling for the NDP position of a further increase that only urban people could use. She was saying the rate still isn’t high enough.

That’s the real issue.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stroke survivors lean on each other in Nelson

‘I’ve learned more about strokes from being in the group than I did from anyone else’

COLUMN: Screening will help take Sinixt people (and their drum) to Ottawa

‘Older Than The Crown’ plays Thursday at the Capitol Theatre

New program offering rides for Castlegar seniors

IRIS has started a transportation assistance program for seniors.

Organic waste pick-up expected by 2022 in RDCK

But there are many unanswered questions in Nelson about cost and details

Two overdose deaths in Nelson over the weekend

Police warn that much of the current drug supply in the city may be dangerous

Pipeline dispute: Tories put no-confidence motion on House of Commons agenda

Conservatives say they have no confidence in the Trudeau government to end the rail blockades

Galchenyuk nets shootout winner as Wild edge Canucks 4-3

Vancouver tied with Calgary for second spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

B.C.’s soda drink tax will help kids lose weight, improve health, says doctor

Dr. Tom Warshawski says studies show sugary drinks contribute to obesity

A&W employees in Ladysmith get all-inclusive vacation for 10 years of service

Kelly Frenchy, Katherine Aleck, and Muriel Jack are headed on all-expenses-paid vacations

B.C. mom’s complaint about ‘R word’ in children’s ministry email sparks review

In 2020, the ‘R’ word shouldn’t be used, Sue Robins says

B.C., federal ministers plead for meeting Wet’suwet’en dissidents

Scott Fraser, Carolyn Bennett says they can be in Smithers Thursday

Province shows no interest in proposed highway between Alberta and B.C.

Province says it will instead focus on expanding the Kicking Horse Canyon to four lanes

First case of COVID-19 in B.C. has fully recovered, health officer says

Three other cases are symptom-free and expected to test negative soon

Budget 2020: Weaver ‘delighted,’ minority B.C. NDP stable

Project spending soars along with B.C.’s capital debt

Most Read